appetence [ˈæpɪtəns], n, a natural craving or desire, a natural or instinctive inclination, an attraction or affinity.
The warmth of the fire encourages the exhaustion Athelstan already feels, want of sleep making the lids of his eyes heavy and hard to keep open. The summer raids are almost upon them and the work on the farm seems endless to prepare.
After supper, Lagertha and Ragnar had announced they would take a short walk outside, touching and laughing like youths as they left the house. They had coyly invited him along (with Ragnar's hand upon his thigh and a smirk upon Lagertha's mouth) as they always did but their teasing had long since stopped shocking him and he had felt only amusement when he had refused them.
Athelstan remembers a time when the back of his neck would have burned at the thought of what they were doing. Now his only thought is that he hopes they satisfy themselves enough to be quiet upon returning home. Rolling his shoulder, sore muscles groaning in protest, he rubs at his eye as he sips the last of his ale. He does not believe he will be plagued by any restless dreams tonight.
Gyda returns to the fire pit from helping her brother into his bed after an overindulgence of ale. Bjorn has yet to learn that everything does not need to be done in excess, something Athelstan often wants to chide him for. Gyda is quiet as she picks up her sewing; a shirt, one of his own, that she is mending. She had been kind enough to offer when he had snagged it earlier and his protests against it were shallow, as they both knew that his darning skills are shoddy at best.
Yet seeing the material in her hands, knowing it has touched his skin makes him shiver as if it was his flesh she was touching instead of the cloth.
She smiles at him before returning to her work, content in the silence between them. He had always appreciated it, the ease of their companionship, the way they could simply be with one another. It had been a saving grace in those early days when he had first been stolen to this strange land.
Athelstan remembers keenly the girl she had been, sweet in her shy curiosity of his God and past and homeland. She would ask for stories from his travels and trade them for tales of her own culture. He remembers when Gyda had stumbled upon him one night, caught in the depths of his despair and the way she had silently laid her head upon his shoulder as he had sobbed out his lost hopes.
(Her comfort had embodied God's love so fully in the moment that he had felt a piece of faith he thought long lost settle back into place. Athelstan would be eternally grateful to the girl for that healing touch she had bestowed upon him.)
But there is no peace in their solitude for Athelstan this night. The stillness of the air makes his body prickle as he watches her work. The girl had grown and in her place was a woman. He remembers thinking in their initial days together that this is what it would have been like to grow up with his sister, with a family instead of a duty. He barely admits his resentment to himself at being handed over to the monastery. Yet the way he clings to the makeshift clan the Lothbroks are to him speaks volumes. But his affections he bares Gyda are no longer wholly familial and Athelstan is unsure of what to do with that knowledge.
Gyda's lashes cast down and in the light of the fire they create shadows against the surface of her cheeks. His eyes follow the movement, captivated. Awareness inhabits his bones, a slight burn of shame accompanying it. Like the smoke from the fire, she settles over his senses, making it hard to breathe.
No, she was not a child any longer.
She would have to marry soon; leave here for her husbands' home and the mere thought of her absence makes his stomach roll. Would her husband know of the way she loved the sight of the seas during a storm but only when her family was safe and home? How she could outdrink her brother? Or that she is serene in both joy and sorrow and how to tell the difference?
Athelstan grips his cup of ale until his knuckles are white. He never thought to feel this way, never wanted too, and the knowledge that he does makes him eager and resentful in the same breath.
When she is done and uses her teeth to bite the thread and he wishes to be the string, Athelstan knows it is time to retire. He informs her gently of the decision.
"Wait," She stops him. "Will you braid my hair first? I do not want to wait on Mother."
Her request is soft and he does not have the heart to refuse it, no matter how much distance he desires. So he nods and motions for her come and she does, sitting beside him with her back to him. He wishes he wasn't aware of how the firelight catches in her hair and transforms it into shades and gilded gold.
As he gathers up her blonde waves he remembers how, when braiding her hair for the first time, his fingers had gotten caught in her tangles. He had been so clumsy then, unsure in the new venture, that he fingers shook and his first braid had come out crooked. The weight of her curls in his hands now causes his fingers tremble for reasons that have nothing to do with inexperience. The years have made his hands swift and sure and before he is even aware, her hair is plaited, revealing the smooth curve of her neck. His eyes linger on the pale expanse longer than he would like.
"Thank you, Priest." Gyda says once his has finished, while the words are said with affection they feel mocking given his current thoughts. However, Athelstan returns her smile with one he vainly hopes doesn't look too wry. He watches as she makes her way back to her own bunk.
Athelstan feels he may have been wrong; perhaps his dreams will not be as restful as he had hoped.