Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Vikings are back in Week 16/Chapter 16 of Silver and Spice by Maria MacAuley!

Hello friends/followers! Welcome to week 16/chapter 16 of  Maria MacAuley's Silver & Spice. There are only two more chapters after this one (pouts) Now we present to you another portion of a very exciting, romantic and all-around great story.  We will be posting a chapter for you to enjoy each week until the story's end. We are looking forward to comments, feelings, thoughts, etc. of what you think for each portion posted. So please be sure to leave a comment in the comments section :)

Now I present to you... Silver and Spice!

View Prologue and chapter 1 HERE, chapter 2 HERE,  chapter 3 HERE,  chapter 4 HEREchapter 5 HERE, chapter 6 HERE, chapter 7 HERE
chapter 8 HEREchapter 9 HEREchapter 10 HEREchapter 11 HEREchapter 12 HEREchapter 13 HEREchapter 14 HERE, chapter 15 HERE

Chapter 16

A man's voice cut through the fog that was clouding her mind. 'She is stirring again, Sean.' Roisin groaned as she lolled on the uneven planks of the boat, trying to raise herself onto her elbows.  The undulating movement was making her queasy and her head throbbed from where she had been struck.  A hand pulled her sharply by the ankle and once more she slid down flat against the boards of the hull.
'Make her drink more elixir, Lorcan. Keep her silent.' A sour smelling finger and thumb pinched her nose and as she gasped for air, the cloying viscous liquid slid down her throat again.  She tried to fight the drowsiness, but failed.  The voices faded as unconsciousness once again set in

Kristr was pacing the hall, hurling curses on his enemy.  It was one thing when MacRonan’s four men attacked him and left him for dead, but this was his woman; he valued her more than life itself. “We must leave now! MacRonan will not get away with this!  He cannot have had more than a quarter day’s sailing on us.”  How frightened Roisin must be; he remembered his own guilt at taking her hostage, the look of fear and hurt in those clear green innocent eyes haunting him now.
Kerik sat stone-faced, but finally he broke his silence. “With all my faith in Thor I believe that MacRonan’s father Peter killed my beloved Aisling, the mother of Kristr.”  He bit out the words.  “But his offspring will not not be permitted to carry out the same atrocity on Roisin.”
Johan observed his friend as he stomped the length of the room, kicking the rushes on the floor. 'Kristr, I could not agree with you more, but you must prepare a plan.'
'And what do you suggest? My personal plan is to find MacRonan, cut his ball sack into one hundred pieces and feed it to Alfhilde of Jarlshof.  You were the one that told me they were working together.’
Johan was not perturbed by Kristr's rage, but this fury would lead to poor decisions. 'I believe that they will have sailed to Jarlshof, although MacRonan will assume that you will follow him to Dubh Linn.' The tall quiet Irishman's skill at observation had not let him down before. Johan, in his guise of Albert of Northumberland remembered all too clearly the crushed golden torc that belonged to Alfhilde, in the grimy hands of MacRonan.
'Well, Johan, we shall sail on the morning to Jarlshof.' Kristr trusted his brother in fosterage with his life, and now he had to trust him with Roisin's life too. He picked up the remains of Roisin's braid, and held it tight in his fist. This was not the only memento he was going to have of the woman who had changed his life. Placing the plait in his pouch, he drew his sword. 'I will be in the blacksmith's forge, sharpening my blades.'
Erik stood up. 'I am coming with you, as is Knottr. We cannot allow you to travel on your own.' A dry smirk crossed his face. 'That fiery red hair of yours matches your temperament, and Johan will need our assistance to save you from yourself.' Knottr, as usual, said nothing, his expression resolute. Kristr nodded his thanks. His brother knew him well.
Johan was happy to be leaving in a small group. If they entered the Jarlshof waters from the less-used and poorly-defended North shore under darkness, it should be easy to enter the settlement buildings.
Addressing Kerik as Jarl, he said, 'It might be prudent to send messengers to some of the nearby steadings.' Over a score of boys were fostered by Alfhilde at any time, and when this was over Johan was sure that Alfhilde would no longer be fostering young men or boys. Although a boy reached manhood at the tender age of twelve summers, it was not uncommon for them to lay with women so early in life, but bed-sport with the likes of Alfhilde was not normally introduced to those so young.
'Consider it done, Johan. If you are not back within a sennight I shall arrange a sailing to Jarlshof myself.' An icy tone had replaced Kerik's normal booming baritone. He would summon the neighbouring Jarls to an Allthing, where Alfhilde would face her crimes.

Roisin tried to shake herself from sleep, but her limbs would not co-operate. She strained to hear the voices around her; the blindfold was still there, its rough weave pressing against her cheek.  How many hours had passed?  Was it days?
'Why did you cut her hair?' It was a woman, the voice sounded familiar.
A man's voice responded. 'You told me she was to be a slave. Even I know that the Norse do not permit their thralls to have the beauty of long hair. How else will you recognise their lowly status?' Roisin would never forget that voice. She tried not to shake in fear, glad for now that her muscles would not co-operate. MacRonan intended to sell her as a slave. Her heart thumped as she thought that she would never see Kristr, her father or Ciara again.  What would Breda, her mother have done?  Breda had been killed callously at the hands of a man, and she had been skilled in weaponry. She offered a silent prayer to her mother, to guide her with inner strength.  She had to stay alive for Kristr, for her family.
'Most men prefer their bed thralls to look like women, not some dirty wench from the outhouses.' The woman who spoke gave a snort of disapproval. She felt someone grab her by the shoulder and turn her body over. A hand tugged on her hair. 'Maybe we can do something with it.' She could not suppress a small cry of pain at the sharp action.
The woman laughed. 'How much sleeping draught did you give her? The Halfling is barely bigger than a girl, no wonder she's still asleep.' Halfling. The woman was Alfhilde. She had insulted her size when Kristr had brought her here on the way to the steading. 'I shall have Ethel and Ruth wash her when she fully wakens up.'
'What is she tries to escape, Alfhilde?'
'She will not be able to get very far, MacRonan.'
The voices faded as they moved out of the chamber, and despite every best intention, she succumbed to sleep again.

The main hall was empty save for the two who ate their meal. 'So, Alfhilde, what is your plan for my former betrothed?' MacRonan swallowed his mead in one gulp, and motioned to the servant to fill his goblet again.
'My fosterlings have been very disciplined over the winter. They have learned their lessons well.' MacRonan guffawed. Lessons with Alfhilde were very varied and far ranging. She ignored his phlegmatic expression of humour and continued, 'I think they deserve a tournament. The halfing will make an interesting prize over the usual award of coin.' She took a dainty sip of her own mead. 'And the winner can do whatever he wants with her.' Oxen had more value than thralls. The punishment for killing another man's livestock was greater than the punishment of killing a slave.
'I hope you have not forgotten our original agreement, Valkyrie. I want her first. It will give me pleasure to take something away from the Halsrason the Great.' His tone was mocking yet the jealousy he felt for his rival was there.
'As you wish. She is no virgin anyway if she has been living with him on the fjords, there is nothing else to do up there.' Alfhilde snarled, 'His father chose my sister over me when she visited there. Gertrude's life should have been mine!'
MacRonan's head turned sharply. 'You are mistaken. Kerik Halsrason took my mother, and she went willingly! She even had borne him a half-Irish bastard.'
Alfhilde gave a hollow laugh. She had not assumed MacRonan's could be so naive. ‘Your pathetic Christian beliefs have blinded you to the real world of Halsrason! He had two women. His own little harem in the frozen North. And who do you think that half-Irish bastard is?' How could he not have seen it before now? 'Surely that fine head of red hair reminds you of another.' She paused, waiting for her words to sink through her companion's wax-filled ears.
He jumped to his feet, drawing his blade in blind rage. 'Kristr Halsrason is Aisling's bastard! I will gut his little wifelet now, and send her back to the fjords in pieces!'
A dagger flew past his ears, the whistling of metal ringing in his head. The action shocked him back into reality. 'She belongs to me, I paid you handsomely in gold, and you will not touch her until I say so!'
Alfhilde stormed out of the hall, shouting for her servants, her blond braids snapping against her back with every step.

A firm hand shook her shoulder sharply. 'Get up, Slave! You have slept long enough!' She startled awake as she was yanked up by her arms onto a chair. Squinting her eyes to the light as the blindfold was pulled off, her vision finally adjusted to see three women standing in front of her. Alfhilde's lips curled into a sneer. 'Well, halfling, let us see if we can prepare you to be a worthy prize.' Slave. This woman did not even use her name.
The two women stripped her clothes from her, and pushed her into a tub, scrubbing her thoroughly. She moved to resist their meaty hands assaulting her tender skin but Alfhilde raised a whip, and cracked it viciously, the snap cutting through the air. 'Next time it will be your flesh, Slave.'
Shivering and naked, she was dried. Scented oils were rubbed furiously onto her body. The overpowering aroma was causing her stomach to churn. She tried to think of Kristr and how he had washed her and anointed her so lovingly after their first night of lovemaking.  She tried to resist as she was dressed in a robe, so sheer that her pink nipples were seen clearly and the small black curls at the entrance to her womanhood cast a tiny triangle of shadow under the light delicate fabric. Forcing her to sit on a stool, the women braided her much shorter hair into many strands and twisted each into a circlet on her head. Under Alfhilde's watchful gaze, the whip twirling in her hand, Roisin closed her eyes, shutting out the unwelcome sensations and ministrations of the women, her thoughts on Kristr; she would not dwell on what was to become of her at the hands of this jealous crazed woman.
A polished plate was held in front of her face, and she looked at her reflection. Her hair, twisted up and arranged on her head exposed her slender neck. She jumped and cried out as she felt a cold piece of metal clamped around her throat, and the mirror was held up again. Tugging in panic at the ornate collar, she pulled at it frantically, but it would not budge. Her ears burned with Alfhilde's throaty laugh.
'Now, Slave, you look pretty, but you do not sound pretty.' Startled, Roisin's gaze followed her captor as Alfhilde smirked, drawing two rows of golden bells from a chest. Handing them to Ethel, she picked up the whip and dragged it slowly over Roisin's back.
'Move and you will feel twenty blows of my lash, Slave. Fifteen will easily kill you, and I will enjoy sending your bloody corpse to your lover.' She blinked back tears. She could not let Kristr remember her like this. She acquiesced, trying not to watch, as Ethel wrapped a bell cuff around her slim ankle, securing them by twisting copper wire around the hasp and crimping it shut. She repeated the process on the other foot.
'Stand, Slave.' Alfhilde curled her finger around the collar, forcing Roisin to stand. Alfhilde moved behind her, and she felt a sharp slap on her buttock, causing her to lurch forward.  Her tormentor pointed across the chamber. 'Walk to the chest and back.' Roisin did this, every step giving a beautiful sound, but to her ears it was clanging, jarring and sinister. 'These bells come from faraway lands, south of Arabia. This is how they keep their bed slaves under control. Every move you make will be heard by all, and they will know what you are, a slave.'

Without announcement, MacRonan walked into the room, and leered at her. Roisin's blood ran cold under his stare. Alfhilde laughed, 'Not yet, lusty one. After the display tonight you can take her'
He laughed in sick mirth. 'I shall look forward to it Alfhilde. Brothers should share everything, Roisin, surely you agree?' When she refused to answer, he pinched her cheek and turned on his heel.  Kristr had you, so shall I.

Their small boat slipped furtively in through the channel to the north of Jarlshof. The water was very shallow; a larger boat would not have made it so far down the river. The men disembarked quietly, each armed with sword, dagger and ax. Lowering the sail and dropping the mast pole, the craft was easily concealed behind a rock. Darkness was their friend tonight, the dim white glow of the full moon shed sufficient light for the group.
Having spent so many years here, creeping through the outbuildings was no problem for Kristr or Johan. The occasional bark of a hound was easily silenced by tossing a sliver of dried boar at the animal. If that did not work, the animal would be slaughtered.
'Stay here.' Johan motioned to Kristr and the others to stay back as they reached the hall, a yellow blade of light shining out through the ajar door. Kristr drew his dagger, the polished steel glinting in the moonlight. Johan grabbed his arm, 'Nei. I said stay here, your emotions will drive your rage.' He was not sure what he was going to see, but if it involved Roisin, Kristr's fury would have them all killed before they had a chance to save her or themselves.
Johan crept up slowly and watched the unfolding spectacle in horror.
Roisin was standing on a dais in the middle of the room; her eyes blazing with a mixture of shame and anger. The silk robe was so fine she may as well have been nude. A leash had been attached to the collar on her neck.
'Turn, Slave.' Alfhilde was standing beside her, the leash in her hand. He could hardly bear to watch as Roisin, staring straight ahead, moved slowly in a circle, unable to stop the jingling bells on her ankles, the sweet sound jarring against the bitter anger evident on her face.
'Fosterlings!' Alfhilde called out to the assembled group of young men. 'There shall be a tournament for swordplay, archery, knife play and horse skills.' She pulled again on the leash. 'The victor will win this thrall for their bed furs.'
Roisin was conscious of nothing but the deafening sound of blood that was pumping through her head, and she barely heard the appreciative murmur that rustled through the assembly.  She concentrated on staying upright against the panicked dizziness as the future loomed before her.  
Through the noise and activity of the hall, Roisin felt the world was moving slowly, she was only an observer to the ongoing hideous display. She watched as Alfhilde motioned to Ethel. 'Take her back to her chamber, she can be claimed by her champion tomorrow.' Handing the leash to the thrall, Roisin followed her gaoler from the hall, the bells tinkling around her feet? It was just as Alfhilde had said; the sonorous jangle letting everyone know who she was, and why she was there.

Johan ran back to Kristr. 'Hold him down!' he hissed to Erik and Knottr. Clamping Kristr’s mouth shut, he whispered furiously in his friend's ear of what he had seen. 'I know where she is going. Keep your temper and we will not lose her. Do you understand?' Kristr nodded and growled behind Johan's hand. Johan was still in control. His friends needed his particular brand of leadership tonight. He instructed Knottr to scupper any boats that were in the harbour. With a nod, Knottr pulled his ax from his back, checked his tinder pouch and marched off to the water's edge.
'Erik, I need you to keep watch on the door of the main hall, lest anyone leave the hall.' These young foster boys would pose no problem for the tall strapping man. Johan and Kristr crept along the side of the buildings, towards the smaller building, keeping the soft pealing of the bells within earshot.
Following the thrall and Roisin into the chamber, Johan pounced on Ethel, subduing her. He hoped that the servant would absolve him of this attack, but Roisin's safety was of greater importance. Roisin started to scream in fear until she felt a finger on her trembling lips, and saw Kristr’s silver eyes staring at her with a mixture of fear and longing. Tears started to well within her, as she tried to speak.
'Shhh, Sweetling.' I have come to bring you home. Home. She was not sure if he meant her father's rath, or his hall, but if she was with him, it would be home. He unclasped the collar from around her neck, letting the leash drop to the floor. He gave her reddened neck a soft kiss.
'I cannot move, they will find me, and you.' She pointed to her feet and the bells. Slicing through the furs left in the chamber, he pushed her gently onto the bed.
'Forgive me, my love. This will not be for long.' He took the cut strips and bound her ankles together, the soft fibres of the pelt trapping within the bells, muffling their sound. He settled her tiny frame in his arms, and signalling to Johan, he left to go towards the hidden boat.
When they reached the little ship, he helped her into a sleeping sack, lined with lambswool. The thin overly ornate clothes she wore had her shivering. 'Keep under the covers, Sweetling, I will be back.' He drew a dagger from his belt and pressed the hilt into her hand. 'You were able to use it before. Do not be afraid to use it again.' Kissing her forehead, with great difficulty, he moved away from her soft skin, and took his leave.
When Kristr crept back to the main hall, he saw Erik standing over a number of youths. They had been knocked unconscious, obviously as they had left the building. The alarm had not yet been raised. Alfhilde and MacRonan were so confident in their deception they had not made plans to prevent a raid.
'Has MacRonan left the hall?' Kristr demanded.
'Nei, not yet. You know you cannot kill him, Brother.' Erik wished he could cut the varlet's throat himself.
'Then I shall maim him before we leave.'
Kristr watched at Knottr walked towards them, ax casually slung over his shoulder as if back from a day chopping firewood. Knottr's mouth was grim, as he finally spoke. His task was complete. 'The boats have been sunk. MacRonan will go nowhere. Those ships that do not have a hole in their hull, currently smoulder. They will set ablaze soon.'
Kristr strode into the hall, and pointed his sword at MacRonan. The remaining boys leapt to their feet, but their still unfilled frames would be no match for the seasoned Viking warriors.
'Sean MacRonan, in front of this assembly as my witnesses, I challenge you to a Holmsgang at the next Allthing, or you forfeit your life now. For insults to me, and to my woman.'  MacRonan may not have been Viking, but the shame of not accepting a challenge would follow him for the rest of his days.
'Your woman?' How do you know I have not planted my seed in her belly? Such a tiny little thing. She will probably die bringing my black-haired son into the world. We are brothers, you and I. She was not fussy which son of Aisling's laid with her.'
Kristr saw red, lunged at MacRonan, slicing his left arm open. Screaming in rage at the second injury to his limb, he tossed a flaming bowl of fish oil at his enemy. Kristr jumped back, and MacRonan made for the door, sword drawn. Although there was but five summers between the men, Kristr was easily besting the pudgy MacRonan, as he drove him from the hall over the carpet of heather that covered the barren ground, sparks flying from the swords as Kristr rained blow after blow onto MacRonan’s blade, the weaker man's lack of skill and strength evident as he deflected less and less. Finally, Kristr's sword struck his left shoulder; MacRonan yelled in pain but held on to his sword nonetheless.
'It will be your manhood next, you waste of seed!' Kristr meant what he said.
Looking to the flames licking up around the destroyed boats, the eerie orange glow casting ominous shadows over his already darkened beserkr features, MacRonan knew he would not have the reserves to escape his enemy alone. It was Lorcan who always fought his battles; and he was nowhere to be seen.
'I will not take part in your Viking Holmsgang, Halsrason.' In the dark, MacRonan stopped swinging his sword. Confused, Kristr strode towards him, determined to end his life, but skidded to a halt as he realised how close they were standing at the edge of the cliff. He knew from experience that it was not high, but the rocks and waves at the bottom had claimed many an animal's life. Another animal will be pushed off them tonight, Kristr thought grimly.
'You will never get the pleasure of killing me, but I will haunt your soul for all eternity, you Mother thief!' With that he threw himself over the edge.
Kristr howled in outrage, the sound tearing through the night. It was a hollow victory, but the night was not yet over. By the light of morning there would be nothing but gaudy rags clinging to the black rocks below. He would claim his trophy in the cold light of day.
It was time to find his brothers. Running to the hall, he was confronted with the scene of Erik, firmly holding a twisting shrieking Alfhilde his grasp. His expression was like iron, no trace of the good nature that he normally countenanced around women. Her time had come and she did not deserve any mercy. Seeing his brother, Erik swept Alfhilde's legs from under her, forcing her to her knees.
Kristr stared down at his former mentor and lover. 'You were going to take my Roisin as a thrall!'
'She is Irish, what does it matter? There is no law against taking slaves; only your father was soft-hearted enough to fall in love with one.'
'She will be his wife, you jealous troll.' Erik's fury nearly matched that of his brother. 'We should never have come back near you, and your abusive ways.' He threw her roughly into the corner. And after you stand trial at the Allthing, you will never foster again!

Be sure to come back next week for chapter 17!

Thank you to:
Bedford Viking Boat (its the one hidden in the rushes) - copyright GR Bush 
the Norway Boat is Copyright Jomme from his ‘Norway 2008’ set and Eva’s little boat  
E. Paterson for the Viking painting 


Maria MacAuley is from Derry, Ireland and has a degree in Celtic Languages. She is married to the love of her life, and they live in relative peace with two cats.

She has a secret wish that her husband will investigate his Nordic family tree further and whisk her off on a longboat to Hammerfest to view the Northern Lights.

If Maria were to choose her favorite tense, it should be the subjunctive, and is always keen to discuss same over a pint of Guinness.

~*"No portion of this story may be copied or shared without the direct permission of the author."*~

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