A/N: I am beyond happy and excited for this! I've always wanted to write a fairytale AU but never got inspired enough, but then this came to me out of the blues while I was working on my other stories and I just had to drop everything and write it down. It turned into a much longer piece than originally planned, but I had loads of fun writing it so I do hope you enjoy it despite its monstrous length :D
Also one final note before you start: The term 'Northmen' is often used to refer to Vikings, or people who spoke the Old Norse language from which modern Scandinavian languages are derived, but in this universe they're not at all related to Vikings or Scandinavians. I may have borroweda few things, but they're mostly made up. This entire world is actually made up, so really there's no such thing as Vikings or Scandinavians or England or even Hogwarts.
I know, know. It's bad enough that Hogwarts doesn't exist in our world, but in my defence I did turn Hogwarts' staff into badass dragons.
Anyway, I'm done spoiling all the fun! Just wanted to clarify a few things before potentially annoying the history buffs reading this ^.^
Nothing pained Princess Hermione more than the fact that the occupants of her father's kingdom were largely… stupid.
The peasants she excused, for they lacked the resources to educate themselves and they were mostly illiterate rather than stupid. Her father's court, however, she couldn't excuse no matter how hard she tried, which wasn't very hard considering that she never really like them very much to begin with. They were nobles with too much gold in their vaults, time on their hands, and no skill or thought occupying their minds. Only three things caught their interest: feasts, brothels, and war.
Her aversion increased when she came of a marriageable age, for being her father's only child and a girl at that would make whomever she marries the next ruler of her kingdom. The nobles became persistent and sometime even inappropriate with her since her father made the announcement. The final straw had been when she overheard her father and his advisors, who also happened to be some of the most vile men she's ever laid eyes upon, narrow her list to Princes Draco and Blaise from the neighbouring kingdoms and Lords Warrington, Flint, and Crabbe from her father's court. She had really hoped that Sirs Potter or Longbottom or even Finnigan would make the list. The knights were her childhood friends and they had no interest in ruling, so with her marriage to either three she'd satisfy her father's wishes but also maintain some of her own sovereignty, but it appeared that her father's advisors were much more conniving than she thought.
What they failed to take into account despite all their bribery and scheming was that Hermione happens to be a very smart, brave princess. Little did they know, she has been forming strong relationships with the dragons for years in hopes of building bridges long ago singed by her more violent ancestors, so when her father refused to listen to reason she sought the dragons' aid and together they came up with a plan. A particularly crafty dragon called Sybill pretended to raid the castle and kidnap Hermione, and she made quite the show with her prophecy of a 'noble knight as brave as a lion with a heart as clear and pure as the first snows of winter' that would supposedly rescue Hermione from the fearsome dragons' clutches.
Hermione was sometimes thankful that most of the nobles and knights of her father's court weren't the as sharp as their swords, for the truth is dragons are terrible with prophecies. They can't even see them to begin with. Their abilities, besides impeccable speech, include breathing fire and having impenetrable scales. They can also see into the very depth of a man's heart, which Hermione found very useful for her inevitable return to her father's castle.
Did you really expect her to leave her kingdom in the hands of those incompetent ninnies? Of course not. She's Hermione.
The next best available option was trusting the dragons' judgment, and she did just that. It didn't take long for her father to put a handsome reward on her rescue, which of course included her hand in marriage and the throne to her kingdom, and soon enough the tower she was 'held' in was attacked several times every week by several loud, obnoxious lords and knights. She got particularly worried about the dragons when Prince Draco came with an army, but still he was no match for the dragons' strength and fire.
The attacks on her tower and the dragons became less and less frequent with every passing failure. Soon the days turned into weeks and weeks into months and months into years. There hasn't been another attempt since Hermione completed her twenty-first summer on this Earth, which was roughly a year ago. She was getting closer to spinsterhood and she was beginning to worry that they have given up on her, and for a split moment of weakness she even considered giving up and settling for whatever her father and his advisors picked for her, but her dragons and the more indomitable side of her kept her in her tower.
Is there not a single man decent enough in this bloody kingdom? She thought as she lazily flipped through another book she's already finished reading. She was getting awfully bored and Sir Potter and Lady Weasley wouldn't be able to sneak out for a visit for two more weeks.
The sound of approaching hooves startled her out of her revere. A horse's neigh and a commanding masculine voice soon followed suit. She grinned, closed her book and placed it on top of the crowded bookshelf. She let her braided hair loose and quickly changed into one of the new gowns Lady Weasley brought with her on her last visit. She then rushed to the very top of the tower and found that the eldest dragon with the silver-purple scales was already waiting for her.
"Speak to me, Albus. How is he?" she asked, panting and kneeling on the ground to keep herself obscured from her potential rescuer and husband. She caught a glimpse of a rather large grey horse but tall, thick trees obscured the man.
Albus didn't answer straight away, and even when he did his sky-blue eyes were still on the man several hundreds of feet below. "He's interesting. Different."
Hermione frowned, now more than ever tempted to sneak another peak.
"Not the handsome type for sure," added Albus. "Not like Prince Blaise, but not quite like Lord Crabbe either. He is of noble blood, but he doesn't show it."
So he's humble, Hermione concluded, biting her lip to prevent an excited grin from appearing just yet. There was till one very important thing left to confirm.
"And what of his heart?" she asked.
"The heart of a man," said Albus, now amused as he turned back to the man. He was shouting something from the top of his lungs but Hermione couldn't understand the language so she assumed that he was probably challenging Minerva or Horace or Severus soaring nearby.
"What do you mean?"
"His mind is quick but he faith lies with his sword. He lusts for glory but not power. He is a man of action but he's drawn to beautiful words. His desires are simple and obtainable but his dreams eclipse the sun."
Strong, honourable, ambitious… poet?
She shook her head. She loved her companions but sometimes she wished they'd just tell her in plain English exactly what they saw. Nevertheless, what she managed to interpret didn't sound too bad. If anything, this mysterious noble rider might be the man that will help her get her throne back.
"What do you think?" she asked Albus, anxious still despite her heart leaning for a Yes.
Albus looked at her. He unfurled his large wings. "I trust that you will be in safe hands, Princess, but I will remain with you if in your heart of hearts you're still uncertain."
Hermione chewed her bottom lip, taking her time to really think over her decision as the man below continued shouting in his native tongue. If she says Yes there will be no turning back, and the dragons could be mistaken, but so far they have never let her down. She has no reason to not trust them. They loved her as much as she loved them, they wouldn't give her away to a man who could potentially hurt her.
Taking a deep breath, she looked up at Albus. She was scared of her decision, of what door it might open or close, but in her heart she felt certain that it's time to leave the tower, so she smiled at Albus and nodded. He nudged Hermione's shoulder lovingly with his snout before taking flight. The other dragons followed suit, each passing over the tower to give their good wishes to Hermione, and Hermione reached up to stroke their warm bellies every time they did. She returned to her room when she was sure that they were all gone.
She paced the length of her circular room, going through the many possible scenarios of their first meeting in her head. He had spoken to the dragons in a language she didn't recognise so he must've come from far away, and it made her briefly wonder how far her story travelled since her escape five years ago.
She risked a third look out the window. She saw the horse grazing in a grassy area nearby but no sign of the rider. What's taking him so long? She thought, getting more agitated with his delay. There are hardly that many rooms in the tower, and the story clearly says that I will be waiting at the very top…
She flopped down on her bed with a huff. Maybe he heard the story wrong?
Approaching heavy footsteps echoed from the spiral stony staircase outside her door. She did the first thing that came to her mind and laid flat on her bed. She quickly pushed the unruly curls that fell over her face and folded her hands over her stomach. She closed her eyes just as she heard the door opening with a creak.
To this day Hermione can't exactly say why she did that. While it's true that that's the way it usually goes in most stories when the prince finds the princess in a delicate, vulnerable state of which she can only be revived from with 'true love's kiss' or some rubbish of the sort, Hermione always thought that she was more of a confrontational princess. She vowed long ago to not fall for such trope, so when asked about the incident today she'd flush and blame it on her nerves.
Her visitor took a few steps in and then stopped for a while, now doubt surveying his surroundings. She heard him making his way towards her and almost frowned at his stealth. Shouldn't the clank of his armour give him away at such close proximity? She felt the mattress of her bed shift as he sat on it and tried not to wince or gag at the smell that assaulted her nostrils, for he absolutely reeked of sweat, blood, and earth.
He travelled a long distance, she reminded herself, forcefully shoving her repulsion away, he must've encountered bandits and all kinds of beasts on his way.
A roughened hand stroked her cheek. Hardworking and gentle, she noted, adding another point to his accumulating admirable qualities. The same fingers travelled to her jawline and then to her neck, pressing lightly on her pulse.
I'm obviously breathing, but I suppose one wouldn't want to risk kissing an-almost corpse…
Although slightly amused, Hermione was getting impatient. She wanted to get this whole ridiculous act over with so she could march home and reclaim her kingdom. She's waited five years for this moment and she had to pretend that she's been in distress ever since. She deserves a break!
The hand retracted. He rose from the bed. A thick, heavy, furry quilt was dropped over her, effectively covering her from head to toe. Her eyes shot open and she saw darkness. She heard his footsteps retreating. She slowly and cautiously removed the fur quilt from over her head, which she realised to be a cloak upon closer inspection.
Her eyes searched for the stranger in her room and found him standing by her bookshelf with his back to her and a large sack nearly half full propped next to the shelf against the wall. He wore no armour and his clothes consisted of hard leather and bits of fur that matched his cloak. There were no badges or colours in sight to indicate his allegiance. His hair was long, black as coal and matted. His weapons of choice were an axe and a sickle hanging from his belt, and Hermione could tell from their design and the sharpness of the glinting steel that they were never once used for farming.
She gasped. She couldn't help it, she finally recognised him, or rather she finally recognised where she's seen his style of clothing and hair and choice of weaponry. She's seen illustrations of it and read about his people and their culture in numerous books, and every time she did she made sure to thank God Almighty that she's far enough from the savage Northmen that brutalised the coastal kingdoms at every opportunity.
He whirled around at her gasp, dropping the book he was flipping through and reaching for his axe. Hermione gripped the cloak tighter around herself at the sight, suddenly too frightened for words and feeling bare and utterly defenceless. His posture slackened when his eyes landed on her and his hand moved away from his axe, but still Hermione wasn't comforted. She had alerted him to her presence and now she can only pray that he'd find her too repulsive and leave, but knowing the Northmen's… appetite, she might not even get out of the tower alive.
He approached her bed and she gasped and scrambled further away until her back hit the wooden headboard. Her heart was hammering in her chest, her tongue heavy and useless in her mouth, and her hand fumbling uselessly around her bare neck for a cross she tossed into the lake a few years ago. The closer he got the larger and more formidable he appeared, and if his people were anything like him then the books she's read have done them no justice. His face, partially obscured by dark hair and a thick beard, was all harsh lines and sharp angles. His eyes were black as the starless night sky and his nose large and crooked. A vertical scar cutting through the corner of his mouth left an odd gap in his beard, and she noticed that a few of the thick locks closest to his narrow face were braided with bright red strings. A tiny part of her more curious, intellectual side that somehow survived the initial shock was wondering if the color represents his marital status or tribe or accomplishments.
What were the dragons thinking?! A Northman, a savage, a… a pagan!
Her mind reeled as he stopped by her bed and kneeled on the mattress. His hand move to the belt holding his axe and sickle and she pulled his cloak to her chin and shut her eyes, mindful of the thin fabric of her summer gown with the low neckline. His weapons would tear through her skin like butter.
Her eyes flew open when she heard the clang of metal hitting the ground and she turned to see his belt along with his weapons discarded by the bed. His fur cloak was ripped from her clutches and then he was on top of her, his weight pinning her to the bed as his chapped lips claimed her softer ones.
This is certainly not how the stories tell it, she thought as he plundered her lips, rough and dominant and aggressive and not remotely similar to the two, maybe three chaste kisses she's shared with the son of the castle's cook. While Colin Creevey with the dreamy eyes of an artist was soft and hesitant, this Northman discarded all niceties in one go and went straight for the kill, nibbling on her lower lip and then swiftly slipping in his tongue. He gave no room for her to process the sudden turn of events and he didn't seem to care that she wasn't paying him back in kind, but merely lying below him flushed and panting as his tongue explored her mouth and as his hand searched below her skirts.
Panic seized her when she realised what he intended to do, what she's given him permission to do with her submission, and suddenly her brain and mouth and limbs started working again all at once.
"W-wait," she gasped, placing her palms flat on his chest and attempting to lean away from the kisses that moved to her throat. "This isn't right– wait!"
He groaned against her skin. It then occurred to her that he probably didn't understand what she was trying to tell him, so used whatever strength she had and pushed at his chest with all her might while her legs kicked away his wandering hands. It didn't seem to affect him at first but then slowly she managed to sit up and put enough space between them to be able to look at him without bumping noses.
"No," she said firmly, nearly as breathless as he. She kept a hand on his chest for extra measure. "No."
He pushed her hand away and kissed her again. His hand groped her breast, making her yelp and shove him away. She slapped him hard across his face.
"I said No!" she shrieked, once again pulling his cloak to her chest and scrambling back towards the headboard, flushed and shocked and hysterical. "How– how dare you lay your filthy hands one me, heathen! Is sex and violence really the only things you Northmen think about?!"
He snarled in response, harsh and animalistic, making her jump and instantly regret her words. If he wasn't going to kill her then, he's definitely going to do it now.
He glared at her, his fists clenched on his lap, before raising his hand over his head and seizing a fistful of the fur cloak she cowered behind. She let out a cry and brought her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, suddenly afraid that he'd force himself on her and then kill her, but instead he got off the bed and marched towards his half-empty sack while clutching his cloak that trailed on the floor behind him. He was muttering what she assumed to be curses in his native tongue, most likely directed at her.
She watched him, half curious and half afraid, as he opened her drawers and searched through her garments. He examined the few pieces of jewelry and precious stones he found and tossed them into his sack, along with her silver spoon set and chalice and other items he deemed valuable.
Her eyes widened. "Are you… are you looting the tower?"
He didn't respond. A dangerous kind of fury took over her senses when he grabbed the book he dropped on the floor earlier and tossed it into his sack. She grabbed the axe from his discarded belt and marched towards him with renewed vigour.
"I am talking to you, heathen!" she said in warning, standing behind him and angling the axe over his neck, making sure that the sharp end jabbed his skin but not enough to break it.
He froze, then slowly turned his head to look down at her. His intense black eyes unsettled her, and it didn't help that the axe was too heavy for her rather skinny arms, but she held her ground and glared defiantly back at him. He narrowed his eyes and turned around in his spot to face her. He grabbed the hilt of the axe and tugged it towards him, making her stumble and nearly fall face-first into his chest.
"Viktor," he said, his accent thick and his voice as harsh as the rest of him. "My name is Viktor."
She stared at him for a long time, feeling her anger subside. "O-oh. I see. You can understand me." She hesitated, then released his axe. "Viktor. That's quite a civil name for a Northman."
He grunted in response, then placed his axe on top of the shelf where her stolen book used to be and proceeded to look through her drawers.
"You're quite civil yourself, for a Northman," she muttered rather awkwardly, completely and utterly confused by his behaviour. Was this how men proposed to women in his culture, by stealing from them?
"You know where I can find dragon?" he asked after a lengthy, awkward silence, fishing out an old brooch from the depth of her shawls drawer and turning it over in his hands.
"Excuse me, dragon?"
"I come for dragon, but dragon is going away. You know where I can find more?"
She then remembered a passage she's read a long time ago in one of the first books that introduced her to Northmen. Dragons are rare around their side of the world but the Northmen place a high value on their scales, not only as means of creating warships and weapons but as tokens for their gods and goddesses during their yearly religious ceremonies, so it's one of many reasons why they often travel to lands so distant from their frozen territories across the vast seas.
"You're… you're not here to rescue me?" she deadpanned, looking at him and hoping against hope to be reassured that she didn't just thrown away five long years worth of effort.
He looked up from the brooch at her, his thick dark eyebrows knitting in confusion. In other words, he hadn't come to her rescue. He's probably never even heard of her. He was attracted to the dragons guarding her tower.
"Oh no!" she moaned, turning away from him and towards the window, her chest heaving with constricted sobs and her eyes watering. "What have I done, I was so stupid, I… I ruined everything!"
She closed her eyes as the tears spilled fast and hard. Her hands clutched the windowsill for support as her entire frame quivered at the thought of the many possible consequences of her rash decision, of which none worked in her favour. It wouldn't take long for the lords and princes to notice the dragons' absence. She couldn't stay put and wait for one of them to claim her, but she couldn't turn tail and leave her kingdom behind either.
She was so lost in her anguish that she failed to notice that Viktor stopped looting her tower sometime ago and merely stood still behind her.
"You don't live here?" he asked.
She shook her head. "I'm Princess Hermione, from the tower."
He didn't seem to recognise the name or the story. "Where is your castle, Princess?"
"Not too far from here."
There was a pause, and then she heard him move closer. "Why are you here and not there?"
She snorted inelegantly. "It's a long story. I wouldn't want to keep you from your journey, so please. Finish your looting and carry on with your search."
A large, calloused hand on her shoulder made her turn around to face him. His expression was hard but his eyes softened when he saw her tears, and it confused her because what she read on Northmen said that they don't care for the tears of women. She hastily wiped her tears with the back of her hand when she saw his free hand rising slowly for the task.
"Alright then, if you insist," she sniffed, moving to sit on the chest nearby. She bit hard on her tongue and willed herself to not flinch when he sat next to her, his large frame easily taking over most of the available space and forcing their sides to touch. Her very modest, Christian upbringing urged her to move away, that it was massively inappropriate, but she was afraid of an indefinite future and for the moment he felt safe.
She told him everything that happened with her since her father's announcement at the end of her sixteenth birthday. For hours he listened to her speak of her scaly saviors that had faith in her when her own family didn't, of her desire to rule her own kingdom and to usher a much-needed era of peace and tranquility, and of her father's ransom and her now failed attempt at tricking him into permitting her to choose her own husband.
She watched him contemplate her words after she was done telling her tale as her fingers toyed nervously with the hem of her sleeve. He was stroking his beard thoughtfully and staring hard at the ground, thinking of things Hermione could only guess. Deep down she was hopeful, but she refused to acknowledge it. However civil and strange he appeared, Viktor was a Northman still. He will have no room for sympathy in his cold, stony heart, nor an obligation to right a wrong that hasn't been done to him.
Finally, he sighed. "My father will not be happy with me bringing home a Christian bride instead of dragon scales."
She blinked, stunned. "What do you mean?"
He snorted. "What you think I mean? I will take you with me and make you my bride."
"Absolutely not!" she gasped, appalled. She rose to her feet. "I mean I appreciate the gesture, but I can't. I'm a Christian woman, a princess, and you're a… a heathen! A pagan!"
He sneered. "It will be good for you, Princess, to marry a man the gods smile upon instead of an idiot with a false god."
"False god?!" again her fingers sought the missing cross around her bare throat. "Your gods are the ones made by men!"
"You know my mother was also a Christian princess, like you. She was also crazy, always saying things like that."
That explains the royal blood, she thought. "And I'm assuming your people brutalised her for it?"
"No. She is dying from childbirth."
"Oh," she breathed, suddenly ashamed. "I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have… my own mother died from childbirth as well. I know it can be painful."
He shrugged, not looking the least bit concerned with her cruel and rather unfair judgment.
She shook her head. "So does that make you a prince, assuming that your mother could only marry royalty and that your father happened to be some kind of a Northman king?"
His glare startled her. He looked highly offended by the notion. She took a step back when he stood up to his full towering height. "I am a warrior!"
"Yes, yes, of course!" she said quickly, putting her hands up either in defence or submission, she couldn't tell from the sudden onslaught of her nerves. "But I still can't marry you. My father, his court, the Church… they'll never permit it, not unless you're baptised first."
He scoffed at the notion, moving towards the bed to pick up his belt and secure it around his waist. "We will marry, I will give you back your kingdom, and I will not denounce my gods. Yes?"
"I told you, we can't–!"
"Your father is a good Christian man, yes?" he asked, moving back to grab his axe and fasten it in its rightful place by the sickle.
"I… yes. Yes, he is."
"Then he will not break his oath to his god, because that would make his god angry and no one wants to make the gods angry. He promised to give you to the man that rescues you from the dragons, yes?"
"Y-yes," she said softly, finally understanding his logic but still too skeptical to hope.
"And I rescue you, so now he must allow you to marry me. If he says no, I will come back with my warriors."
"You will– warriors!" she sputtered, clutching his arm to stop him. "Absolutely not, you will not attack my kingdom, you will not come near it!"
He smirked. "How will I marry you if I can't come in, Princess? Don't worry. No one says No to Northmen warriors."
"I… I suppose that's true," she muttered, slowly releasing his arm.
She felt that they were perhaps being far too naïve and optimistic by assuming that no one would start a riot at the thought of the princess marrying a pagan Northman, regardless of his royal heritage from his mother's side, but something about the way he was looking at her made her hope and believe that she may have made the right decision after all. He appeared earnest, however blasphemously he spoke of her faith, and ever since she spoke to him he proved to be nothing like the Northmen she's read on.
Except for their initial meeting, of course. Then again, first impressions weren't always accurate…
The sun was dipping low into the horizon when they left the tower. She was stroking the soft coat of his large, grey horse while he rummaged through some of the satchels attached to it and then proceeded to secure his (stolen) items on its back.
"Does your horse have a name?" she asked, staring at the magnificent creature fondly. "He's very large compared to ours, but also very beautiful."
"He is Igor," said Viktor, coming to stand next to her.
Hermione turned away from the horse when she noticed the necklace dangling from Viktor's hand. She took the pendant in her hands while he held the chain, admiring the large onyx reflecting the dying rays of the setting sun amidst a ring of pearls. It was perhaps the most beautiful yet simple piece of jewelry she's ever seen.
"Wedding gift," he explained with a proud, boyish grin that brightened his face considerably.
She shook her head, then narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Viktor, where did you steal this from?"
He scowled. He removed the necklace from her light grip with a single tug. "Did not steal. It was my mother's. She is only taking this with her when she escaped with my father. Now turn around."
She complied, biting her lip and cursing her insensitivity a second time. She lifted her hair as he looped the chain around her neck and fastened it at the back. She turned around to face him again, her fingers automatically reaching for the stone now resting on her collarbone. It didn't occur to her until then that the stone matched his eyes.
She didn't complain when he placed his hands on her waist and easily lifted her off her feet and onto Igor's back. She rolled her eyes when he complained about her sitting 'wrong' with both legs dangling on one side rather than straddling the horse's back.
"I'm wearing a dress, Viktor," she huffed. "It will ride up my legs."
He didn't seem to understand her issue with that. He growled in frustration at her lack of cooperation and proceeded to move her to the front of the saddle so he could take her place at the back, probably to make sure that she doesn't fall off during the long ride. Hermione glared at him, now offended. This is not her first time riding a horse! So what if Igor was bigger than the ones in her stables, a horse's back is a still horse's back at the end of the day.
His own glare gradually melted as he stared challengingly back at her, turning into something warm and inviting yet intense and slightly unsettling. Hermione felt bare all of a sudden, as if his eyes were staring past her clothes and skin and bones and deep into her soul. She wasn't sure if she could handle this sudden intimacy just yet.
"You're staring at me," she said, blushing under his brazen eyes.
He smiled, truly smiled for the first time since she laid eyes on him and something within her shifted. "I was thinking. You look like one of our goddesses, sitting on Igor and wearing my mother's necklace."
"And which goddess would that be?"
"Goddess of wisdom, a very important one," he said, tearing his eyes from her and taking his place on the horse behind her. "My people fear many gods, but they love her."
"I see," she said, suddenly conscious of how close he was to her, so close that they were really only separated by the fabric of her dress and the leather and fur of his clothes. "Is she beautiful?"
She couldn't help the shy, girly question, and to her relief he laughed softly. "All our goddesses are beautiful."
They rode into the night with no more words exchanged. Hermione wasn't sure when or how she got accustomed to his closeness, but she hardly cared as her mind was too preoccupied with Albus's words. She turned them over in her head many times, successfully matching the ancient dragon's description with the Northman's. One thing she wasn't certain of was the heart.
He possessed the heart of a man, Albus had said. What exactly did it mean?
Viktor was staring ahead into the road with a blank expression on his face. She closed her eyes and leaned her head on his breast, searching for the telltale beat of the organ his kind was said to have lacked. For a moment she feared that that ridiculous rumour might be true, that he might've truly lacked a heart, but then she realised that she was already listening to the steady rhythm of it's beats, and she found that they matched the sound of Igor's hooves pounding the earth beneath them.
His hand slid around her shoulders, pulling his fur cloak along to shield her from the cold evening breeze. She smiled and grabbed the offered furry material, pinning it along with his hand over her shoulder as she snuggled comfortably into his chest, allowing the steady beat of his heart to lull her to sleep. The last thought that crossed her mind was how eager she was to see the look on everybody's faces when she enters her father's court hand-in-hand with her Northman suitor.