Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight. It belongs to Stephenie Meyer.
You're not seeing things. It's a new chapter of My Viking.
I apologize that it's been so long. Real life got busy with publishing opportunities and then awful when my mom's cancer became incurable. I took a leave from work to care for her – she passed away late November.
Anyway, I finally feel like I have the time and energy to get back to this story! I hope you're ready to get back to the Viking Age with me.
I will not be reposting the first 18 chapters here on FFN as of now. I'm worried the story will be reported again and taken down, which means I would risk having my account shut down permanently. Not worth it. The first 18 chapters are posted on Fictionpad and Starslibrary (formerly The Writers Coffee Shop) and I am also updating over there. Just Google my name and the story, and it should be easy to find if you aren't familiar with these sites.
I want to thank my beta, Chayasara, and my prereaders Diane and Veronica, as well as my writing partner Geekchic12 for all of your help. I couldn't do this without all of you (and I wouldn't want to).
I hope you enjoy!
The first herald of fall was not the changing colors of the leaves. It was the changing of the light. During the summer, it seemed as though the sun hardly set at all, rising before we did and shining on the horizon long after we had all retired for the night. Most days began and ended in the same manner and time, and it was therefore easy to take note of the changing of the seasons. Next came a distinct chill in the air, most noticeable in the mornings when I rose from my warm bed, ready to begin a long day's work in the company of my new family. My light summer dresses were replaced with heavier ones, which I donned with slightly scratchy wool leggings underneath, as well as a lovely soft fur shrug whenever I went outside. It was a gift from my future husband, one of many items I had received through the hands of his mother while he was away making trade at the warmer shores, making sure I looked the part of a chief's wife, which I was to become this winter. I took pride in looking my best, holding my head high whenever I walked through the village, well aware of the attention I garnered since all who dwelled here were looking forward to the celebration of our marriage. But that was not the only reason I was thankful for the warm clothes I had received. The heavy fabrics helped conceal what I'd successfully hidden for weeks and weeks: I was carrying a child, Edvard's and mine.
I had felt despondent and weary after his departure, but the discovery that I was with child had filled me with unparalleled joy although aware of the fact that I must keep it a secret until Edvard's return, only revealing my happy news to everyone after our wedding. Thankfully, I had inherited my mother's healthy disposition and had felt only mild nausea and fatigue and was able to continue working as I had since becoming a member of Beni's family. The weekly visit to the bathhouse would soon pose a problem, though. My breasts had swelled and my belly was softly rounded, which could hopefully still be attributed to eating heartily at each meal. Soon, however, it would become evident that good food was not the only reason for my buxom frame. I did not know how my new family would react should they discover my secret before my wedding, and each day I prayed to the gods that they would return my Viking to me. I missed him with every part of my being, his absence a dull and constant ache in my chest to which I had not grown accustomed. Each time I went to the shore with my family, I would stare out over the water, willing his ships to appear on the horizon. Thankfully, I was not given much free time to dwell on my longing as there was still much to be done in preparation for the winter, as well as for the child Arndis carried. Every day I watched her become more encumbered by her large belly, and I had already taken over many of her duties around the house to ease her workload and allow her to rest. We sewed and wove tiny shifts and soft hats together, and I delighted secretly in the knowledge that I would soon do the same for my own child.
One morning after breakfast Arndis stood up, announcing that the birth had begun. I stared up at her in wonder, taken aback by her calm demeanor. Beni was on his feet at once.
"Are you certain?" he asked.
She nodded and smiled.
"Quite certain, husband. Will you send for Ester and take Brandr with you out of the house?"
He reached out to touch her hand for a moment. I had noticed before how private they were with their affections, especially in front of their thralls, but the love they shared shone from their eyes in a manner that could not be contained.
"I will sacrifice to the goddesses for you," he said as his parting words.
The moment he and their son had left the house, Arndis fell forward, bracing herself on the table, a loud moan escaping her lips. I ran to her side, startled.
"Sister, are you well?"
She turned her head in my direction, a tight smile on her lips.
"Well enough. I would like for you to help me to bed, please."
Together, we walked there slowly, and I helped her lie down on her side. Soon, she winced, grabbing my hand tightly.
"He worries so," she said in between heaving breaths. "You must promise to keep him away."
I nodded. Men had no place in the house when a child came into the world. That was the same in the land of my birth. Soon, Ester arrived with several older women in tow, and they set to work. I stayed in the background for the most part. While I was no stranger to witnessing childbirth, I had not yet assisted in one. Being the oldest child in my family, my duty had always been to tend to my sisters while my mother labored, and I was used to the sounds and sights that followed. Only now they held a different meaning for me. Soon, I would go through the same experience as Arndis. I hoped I would be as strong and stoic as she was. I watched as she grit her teeth to keep from screaming, how she climbed from the bed, determined when it came time to push, and how she squatted while balancing on the balls of her feet, held up by the women by her side. Three good pushes and Ester caught the baby in her capable hands, its loud cries announcing the arrival of a new member of this household.
"A fine boy!" Ester declared, looking over her shoulder at me. "Bella, come and hold him."
I did as she told me, wordlessly receiving the warm, wriggling baby as Ester used a sharp flint knife to cut the cord between mother and child before Arndis bore down again to deliver the afterbirth. The moment it was done, she righted herself and smiled at me, reaching for her son even as her face was still red from the exertion.
"Let me look upon my boy," she said.
I delivered him into her arms and helped her to the bed, watching mother and child meet each other for the first time. The whole experience had left me in awe of her.
"He's beautiful," I whispered. "Perfect."
"That he is."
"Are you well?"
"Yes. It is true what they say; it is much easier the second time."
She smiled up at me, lowering her voice to a whisper.
"I hope it will be as easy for you when your little one arrives."
I blanched, quickly glancing over my shoulder to see if Ester and the others had heard. It seemed they hadn't. Ester, busy wrapping up the afterbirth, was asking for warm water to wash Arndis and the baby.
"You know?" I asked quietly, resisting the urge to put my hand on my stomach.
Arndis chuckled, shifting her son on her chest to help him latch on.
"Of course. I know the signs. You have been blessed."
"No one can know until Edvard returns, please."
She nodded, settling into a comfortable position.
"It will all be well," she murmured. "The gods are good to us."
"They are," I whispered. "Thank you, sister."
After we had washed and dressed Arndis and the baby, Beni and Brandr were allowed back in. Brandr seemed more interested in playing, but Beni's eyes swam with emotion as he gazed upon his wife and child, whispering words to her that were too low for me to hear. I could not have asked for a better family to take me in, and once again I thanked the gods for Edvard's wisdom in placing me here until his return. I loved my new family more than I could have ever thought possible.
Less than a week later, I was awakened by Arndis shaking my shoulder, her voice so high and panicked that it sliced through the haze of sleep, leaving me wide awake immediately.
"Is it the baby?" I asked, sitting up.
"No, come. We are under attack! We must leave at once!"
I jumped out of bed, sensing frantic movement behind the screen that separated us from the rest of the house, muted yells and screams outside. Arndis thrust the baby into my arms and grabbed Brandr from his bed next to mine.
"Where is Beni?" I asked, quickly draping the child in my still-warm blanket from the bed.
"Outside. Fighting. We must away! Come!"
I watched in confusion as she rushed toward the wall instead of the entrance of the house.
"Here, hold Brandr too."
I took her other son, still half-asleep, and gaped at her as she started kicking at the wall down toward the ground. It hardly made a sound as a square part of the wall fell away, leaving an opening to the outside, a secret doorway.
"I will go first."
She kneeled down, peering outside. Behind me, the yelling and sounds of struggle grew louder, causing my throat to close up in panic and my heart to pound so hard it made me feel faint.
"Brandr, come to me," she called.
I released her oldest, watching as he toddled toward the hole in the wall. I followed after, still clutching the baby, shivering the moment the cold of the night hit my body.
"Stay low," Arndis whispered, looking around.
I could not see anyone, but the sounds of screams and struggle were all around us as we ran toward the trees behind the houses. The secret door had given us just enough time to escape, it seemed.
"W-what happened?" I asked. "Who is here?"
"I do not know. A raid? Pray they leave again quickly."
Her eyes were wide with fear, her breath coloring the air white around her.
"What do they—"
Then I heard it, too: voices in the distance.
"Mother." Brandr's frightened whimper brought me out of my stupor, and I handed Arndis the baby before standing up.
"A raid. They will want women, then. I will lead them away from you."
"No! Stay!" she begged quietly.
"They will take you, and they might kill the little ones. You know this." I leaned down and kissed her and her children. "Be safe."
I blinked back the tears in my eyes and started running along the tree line toward the voices. The moment I saw the tall, dark figures in the distance, I started screaming, running in the opposite direction of Arndis and the children, my frightened cries not at all fabricated. I was terrified, but I knew well enough that raiding Vikings had no interest in taking other men's children along. They only wanted the mothers and I would not be able to live with myself if Brandr and the baby were killed.
I could not outrun them, but every bit of distance I was able to put between the raiding Vikings and my family mattered. As I ran I listened, praying I would not hear a baby crying behind me, that Arndis and her children would remain undiscovered. All I heard were the voices of the strangers as they gained on me, one of them finally grabbing onto my shoulder, pulling me to a stop. The moment he touched me, I went silent and still, trembling as I was surrounded.
"You are coming with us. Understand?"
I looked up into the unfamiliar face of the man who had spoken, nodding immediately. One of the other men spoke up.
"This is a pretty one."
"Indeed. Your name?"
He nodded, looking at the other men for a moment.
"You will come quietly," he said, addressing me.
Let them believe me meek and docile. Perhaps that would make escape possible later. They tied my hands with coarse rope, pulling me along with them as we made our way toward the shore. On the way there, they grabbed two more women they found hiding, and I knew Arndis had been right: this was a raid. I saw fighting in the village as I was forced onto the waiting ship in the harbor, but I could not determine which side was winning. Who were all these men and where were they taking us? They moved fast, obviously eager to escape with their spoils, which included free women and thralls as well as silver and weapons, as far as I could see. One of them blew a large horn as we pushed off the shore, and I saw several men in the distance disengage from the fight, running toward the forest. They had succeeded in distracting the men of my village so that my captors could escape. Some of the men from my village chased after them as the others ran down toward the harbor, but it was too late. There were no ships to pursue us, all of them far away with Edvard and his warriors.
Desperation for escape clawed at me, urging me to fight, even though I knew it was not possible.
"Emundi!" I screamed.
I could only just make out his large figure in the distance as he paced at the edge of the shore, throwing up in arms in agitation. He was safe, which meant Ester and Rosé would be too. I had no doubt Emundi would have given his life to save them.
"Find Arndis and the children!" I yelled.
I did not know if he heard me. I could only watch as we navigated the river and continued out to sea, a heavy mist creating a shield between us and everything left behind.
"Your husband?" One of the men laughed. "You will not see him again."
I shook my head, forcing myself not to weep. I would not let them enjoy the sight of my tears. For the second time in my life, I found myself being taken away from everything I knew, everything I loved, but I did not believe my journey would end with happiness this time. I had to escape, and if that was not possible, I would have to endure whatever happened until my Viking could come to my rescue upon his return.
A large meaty hand settled on top of my head, causing me to flinch.
"I want this one!" the man who had laughed announced.
"No!" one of the others barked. I recognized him as the one who had asked for my name. "She is the one the chieftain wants for himself. Pick another."
The man above me removed his hand, cursing under his breath. My mind was reeling. I had only ever met one other chieftain: Einarr, the one who had wanted Edvard to marry his youngest sister. Could he be behind this raid? It seemed as though he and Edvard had left things on good terms. Could it all have been an act on his part, the insult he had felt by Edvard's rejecting his sister causing him to take his revenge now? I could hardly believe it. Edvard had told me how much Einarr treasured their alliance and a peaceful way of living. Surely he would know this was an act of war. But if not Einarr, then whom?
"I will take this one then!"
A frightened cry brought me out of my reverie as the man who had tried to claim me instead grabbed another woman, hauling her to her feet. I recognized her from the kvennahus, where I had spent many pleasant hours in the company of the women of my village.
"Yes, she will do nicely," the man said, pulling at her shift to touch her underneath. The woman screamed and struggled..
"Leave her be!" I yelled, unable to hold my tongue.
His answering slap stunned me, making the world dance before my eyes as pain radiated across my cheek.
"Fool!" one of the others yelled to him. "She is the property of the chieftain. Now, man one of the oars. Plenty of time to enjoy yourself later."
When I regained my focus, the woman was seated once more, crying quietly. The men were all pulling hard at the oars. I locked gazes with the woman, her expression of gratitude nearly too much to bear. I had saved neither her nor myself. I had only delayed the inevitable.
We sailed hard through the night and into the morning hours. I could barely make out the coastline as we traveled on the water. They were not taking us across the sea—a realization that was my only source of comfort, as they gave us neither drink nor food. I shivered with cold in my shift, huddling closer to the other women to preserve some warmth. All the while I prayed—for strength to endure what was to come, for Edvard to return swiftly with his ships, and for the gods to protect my child. As the sun began to set on the horizon, the ship hit land, jostling me out of my prayers. We had arrived.
One by one we were lifted onto the shore, and I looked upon a village in the distance, very much like the one I had just been taken from. The men herded us forward, boasting to each other of their good fortune and newfound wealth. I saw several women and children peering out of the houses as we passed, most of them wearing wary expressions as though the return of these men was not a welcome sight. We entered the largest longhouse, and while the warmth from the hearth enveloped my shivering body, it brought me little comfort. My eyes were drawn to the blond man seated on a raised platform at the end of the house, a large red-haired woman by his side. I knew them both.
Tonna and Jamarr.
Before you freak out about the ending, let me assure you that the next chapter is already written and with my beta and pre-readers as we speak. It will be posted on Friday.
I'm very happy to have returned to this story and am eager to complete it!
Hope you enjoyed it and see you Friday!