This comes near the end of the story. Enjoy!
“You are wed?” Emund’s voice cut across the tavern.
Hnefatafl gaming pieces, held by meaty hands, hung in mid-air. Horns of ale jolted, the golden brew sloshing. A serving wench screeched, dumped from the lap of a stunned Norseman who stood up too fast.
Air churned thick swirls of smoke from flames crackling in the fire pit. The tavern looked
small with the press of over-sized warriors, men whose stares shot from one another before a roar erupted.
Witnessing the cups held high, Hakan released his breath. Around the room, grins began to spread as to a man each warrior read the joy on his face and his Nordic garbed bride. Emund regained his good manners, and offered Helena a seat.
But, the carrot-haired warrior coughed, his brows sewing a thick line over light blue eyes. “There is news from Svea. Bad tidings,” he said over Helena’s head.
“What news?” Hakan planted a boot on the bench and tore off a hunk of bread. He passed the soft, inner part to Helena.
“You’ll not like it,” Emund said, moving closer. “King Olof’s been exiled to Gotland…exiled by his son.”
“Anund Jacob? He is but fourteen winters.” Yet the small hairs on his neck stood on end.
He turned, his back finding the tavern wall. Instinct made the best shield, better than any oak hewn defense. But Helena sat on the bench, her long hair draping shiny waves down her back. A force surged in him; he was her shield now.
Eyeing her dark hair, tension of another kind drummed through his veins: this was their wedding night, a fact penetrating stony places only she could touch.
“Aye, but he had help. Powerful help if the rumors are true.” The young warrior’s voice dipped low. “Gorm. But there’s more.”
Hakan squeezed his axe handle. “Where one betrayal lives, more can be found.”
“King Olof refused the sacrifice. Banished the ninth year blot and set free the nine men to be sacrificed,” Emund spoke in a rush. “Anund Jacob stormed the temple with Gorm. All hell broke loose. Many warriors found their way to Valhalla that night. That’s what I know.”
“Then who is king of Svea? Gorm? Or Anund Jacob?”
“The Rus trader didn’t say.” The young warrior planted his boot on the bench. “But, the garrison of berserkers in Birka is controlled by Gorm. He’s spread enough silver there to wrest control from the king.”
“I’ve never known Gorm to care about such the ninth year blot.”
“But he cares much for the throne of Svealand.” Emund’s lips curled against his teeth. “You’ve heard the talk. The berserker attacks…in the shielings…the murmurings about our king.”
Helena faced Hakan, her blue eyes softening.
“Other interests held my attention this summer,” Hakan said before tearing his gaze from her. “The sooner we return to Uppsala, the better.” He raised his voice and a horn of ale to his men. “We sail at sunrise. To Uppsala.”
Drinking horns lifted high, stirring smoke thick air. Tables rattled under beating fists.
“To Uppsala!” His men chanted.
Battles lay ahead, though not on distant soil, but at home. Lines furrowed grim faces set against the unknown. Many left behind those they loved in their once peaceful kingdom.
“Prepare to leave at daybreak for Uppsala.” Hakan bent low by Emund’s ear. “But, tonight no one goes to the ship.”
He covered Helena’s hand with his, urging her to follow.
Emund held up his cup. “To Uppsala.” But his salute was quiet.
* * *
Hakan closed the tavern door behind them, shutting away the voices. Sweet ocean air caressed her cheeks a better aroma than the smoky room. Around them flickering torch light jabbed the darkness, but Hakan’s presence chased away fear better than any flame.
She studied his stark profile, breaking the silence. “This news of the king and his son bothers you greatly.”
He grunted his agreement. The hard, flat line of his mouth, the distance in his eyes, and her new husband withdrew into a world of thought. Words would come, but her heart sunk a little, needing him.
Of course the news from Uppsala was bad. Blood would be shed.
Ahead, the ship listed on pitch black water, the vessel that would take them back with all due speed. Hakan pulled her along, pebbles and sand crunching underfoot. Her steps quickened to match his long strides.
“Hakan, please slow down or unloose your grip. I can’t keep up with you.”
Ice-blue eyes flashed at her, but he eased his pace, his warm, calloused hand still holding her tight. At the shoreline, he moved to pick her up, but she batted his arm.
“Stop,” she said, catching her breath. “You’re dragging me along like captured prey. I would know your thoughts.” She touched his arm, sinew and muscle flexing under her palm. “Besides this is our wedding night.”
The moon cast shadow and light over his face. Broad shoulders set like an impenetrable wall, but his words were gentle.
“You deserve better than this.”
Tense lines etched the sides of his mouth, lines that needed easing. She reached up and stroked his jawline smooth from their wedding morning.
“I want you.”
His wide chest hitched when she said the stark words. Calloused fingers slipped to the base of her neck, massaging her. He pulled her close, kissing the crown of her head.
“I can smell the lavender from this morning,” he said softly into her hair.
“When we were peacefully wed.”
She rested against his chest; tranquility washed over them, she could hear as much by the strong, steady heartbeat under her ear. The ocean slapped the shoreline, tumbling salted water under their feet.
Her head tilted back all the better to read him. Not wanting to lose the warm contact, she pressed close from chest to feet.
“Hakan…” She drew out his name, her arms encircling his waist. “I would know the lay of your thoughts.”
Tendrils of hair floated across her cheeks, some catching on the corners of her mouth. His thumb traced her cheek, then finding her lips. “I am bothered by these rumors, but that’s what they are — rumors. Men can be the worst gossips. Worse than women,” he scoffed. “I can’t act on the unknown. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I did.”
“Where you are today?” She asked her words light. “You mean standing on these cold Frankish shores, your boots getting wet?”
His face cracked with a wide smile. “You know what I mean.”
“Aye, my lord and husband.” She leaned her breasts into his leather clad chest. “I know
what you mean.”
She kissed his chest…the left side near his beating heart.
“But, you’re troubled that you can’t answer your own questions on the matter of the king and this news of rebellion. ‘Tis why you keep touching your axe.”
Ice-blue eyes narrowed on what she guessed to be her truth telling words.
“I prefer the spirited wench who kissed my chest over this talk of rebellion.”
“You liked that, did you?” Her laughter was lost in the crash of a bigger wave.
He kissed her soundly, a hard press of lips, and then he pulled away. “This is our wedding night, wife. I would not spend it talking on the shores of Frankia.”
She laughed again, her body yielding to her Viking. Hakan scooped her into his arms and
waded into the cold ocean. Waves crashed around his thighs, but she burrowed into the fur mantle, glad for the rich deep, curl of joy wrapping around them both.
Reaching the vessel, he handed her over to one of the two warriors keeping watch. She fussed with her mantle, waiting for Hakan to haul himself over the ship’s rail. No doubt both men witnessed the affectionate play of their chieftain and a woman on the shoreline. That he brought back the woman meant to be returned to these lands was something of which they wisely kept their mouths shut.
And, glad they were when he dismissed them both, bidding them enjoy the evening for tomorrow they would return to Uppsala. The men jumped into the water, splashing and trading jests.
Helena set a hand on Hakan’s chest. “Have you any of those mint leaves?”
He pulled green sprigs from his pouch, his fingers skimming hers. Her heart beat faster at the knowledge that this was going to happen. Now. Tonight. She would lay with him. Something she’d wanted for a long time.
Textured leaves tickled her tongue, bursting freshness in mouth with each bite. Hakan led
her to the same small hold she knew well, and they bent their bodies into the spare space crammed with recent trades. The only light came from the open door further down the hold, but her eyes adjusted to the dimness.
She licked her lips, mint tingling in her mouth. Crouching under the low ceiling amidst the stored goods, Hakan spread a large bear pelt. Their bed. She stared enthralled at the play of his thigh muscles, the size of his hands. Aye, she wanted him to touch her, but she wanted to be the confident woman who faced him without fear.
Her lashes dropped low over her eyes, the darkness consoling.
“Can you smell the spices?” She asked, taking a deep breath ready to talk about anything. “I smell peppercorns. They’re quite strong.” Her nose tipped high, sniffing the air. “When you were gone, someone must’ve traded for cinnamon and…anise?”
Comforting sounds filled the hold, light noises of Hakan unclasping his pen-annular ring, of water slapping the sides of the ship…
She folded her legs beneath her, keeping her lashes low. Her fur mantle brushed her neck, soft and warm. The smells of his ship, the oiled wood—
A beckoning hand touched hers.
“Helena,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”
She licked her lips. “I know.” Her fingers wrapped over his, and she looked at him.
His eyes, more wolfish now, bore into her.
“This isn’t so different than summer nights talking and touching on another fur pelt, is it?” She ventured. “The only difference…this floor sways.”
“Let me hold you.” Hakan extended his arms to her, his body bare of his tunic.
The mantle dropped from her shoulders, and she inched closer, moving between his knees. Large arms cradled her against his chest, and they rocked with the gentle motion of the ship.
She traced the silver band wrapped around his upper arm, finding the grooves etched in the metal warm from his body. Her fingers searched out the smooth bulk and trenches of his arms. His scent of leather and the Frankish soap he used that morn reached her. Lured as she was, her body fit into his, and they moved with the vessel’s gentle sway.
Back and forth.
Back and forth.
Back and forth.
For a time they stayed thus.
Hakan whispered Viking words she’d not learned yet. His lips grazed the side of her head, her ear, lower to her neck. She shivered, pleasure spreading everywhere like a warm blanket. Those butterfly light kisses of his could’ve been wisps of air teasing her.
She smiled in the darkness. How could a warrior of great size kiss this softly?
He reached down to loosen the cross straps on his boots, his breath stirring the hair behind her ear. The first wolf skin boot dropped with a muffled thud, rousing her from a muddled state. She tugged on the straps of his other boot and removed the second one.
“Helena.” Hakan caught her wrists. “Helena, I’m sorry that our first night together as man and wife must be here.” He let go of her hands, his gaze darting around the ship’s small hold. “I wanted much more for you.”
His husky voice sent a warm shudder through her. Heat and fullness flooded her breasts, down her belly, and between her legs. If he only knew how his tender attentions lulled her better than an eiderdown bed.
“Let me touch you,” she whispered.
Hakan shifted to reach for her, but she stopped him.
“Nay. I will do the touching. At least for a time.” She placed his hands palm down to the floor on either side of his hips. “Keep your hands here.”
The need to explore, to let her curiosity roam took over. Seeking fingertips grazed his upper body, light circles and lines across ridges of muscle. His body jolted, tensing beneath her hands at those first feather light touches. She skimmed tufts of chest hair, the wide wall of his frame. Before her eyes, his nipples tightened with pleasure.
Her breath came heavier, matching Hakan’s. She reveled in the play. The hard width of his chest. The small circles of his nipples. The curving muscles of his arms. Her fingers trailed all the way down to his strong hands roped by veins, scarred and calloused by battles past.
Then like a bold forest sprite, she bit his chest, one side and then the other. Nibbles really. Then a lick. The tip of her tongue. This way and that.
Hakan sucked in a breath, air hissing loudly. His hands pushed hard into the planks, his
fingertips whitening. She picked up one hand and kissed the soft spot at the base of his thumb, sucking on the flesh. All of him jerked against her. Hakan’s other hand flew to her hip, gripping and kneading.
“Ah, my lord, for a time you must do my bidding.” She pulled away the offending hand with a brazen smile and set his back on the floor.
Power spun in her, the feel of it like a long draught of honeyed mead. She sucked his finger, glad her warrior’s threads of control were snapping. But, with each movement, enticement played its potent lure on her. Her tongue swirled around his long finger. Her mouth pulled, tasting the light salt of his skin. Where did this come from? The chance to answer that question never came.
She was on her back before she knew it.
Hakan lay over, growling and touching her in a feverish way. Her linen tunic could just as well be off her body the way his demanding hands rubbed her. She groaned from the fabric’s sweet friction on bothered skin. Her body arched into his skilled hands, hands stroking her hips, sliding up the indent of her waist.
She shut her eyes, facing away from him. Needful darkness cloaked her. Everything burned with searing need, hot as water sizzling on a cooking pot. Hakan curled his fist into her hair and tipped her head to oblige him. A hundred pricks tingled across her scalp.
Her plea stayed undone. The Viking chieftain covered her mouth, kissing her deeply. The fragile tease of mint was the only delicate thing between them. He bruised her lips and she bruised him back, straining for more. Their tongues danced in and out of their mouths, frantic for contact.
Her hands wrapped around his head and wandered lower to unloose the leather tie at his nape. Long, white blonde hair fell free, draping the sides of her face. He pulled away, his mouth hovering close to hers. They were in a private world, untouched by anything but this yearning.
Above her Hakan’s eyes light blue eyes were swallowed with darkness. His nostrils flared, as much from needing air as scenting her. The wolfish warrior had replaced the stoic chieftain. She searched his face, hungry for every detail…the hard angle of his jaw, the gold-brown brows thick over his eyes, the strong nose, a fine line, for a warrior.
He braced his hands on the floor, hips shifting into her. Her lips curved into a bigger smile; she liked the quiet moment.
“This is good,” she murmured. “We’ll go slow and—ahhhh…” The sound burst from her lips from pleasure shooting across her limbs.
Hakan rubbed his shaft between her legs.
Her mouth dropped open, eyes widening. Her Viking pressed the tip of his shaft low between her legs, brushing and grinding his way to her belly. One corner of his mouth curled up; the man was satisfied with her reaction.
The slow stroke scorched pleasure from head to toe. Towering over her, he positioned his body to do it again.
Like a desperate wench, she seized his hips.
“What was that you said about going slow?” His wolfish smile was white in the darkness.
Her head lifted off the pelt. From head to toe, flesh and sinew seemed greedy for something elusive.
“Hakan,” she cried. “I…”
Heart pounding, she didn’t know what to say. Kiss me…Take off my clothes… Don’t stop what you’re doing…
And then he rolled off her, keeping his frame pressed against the length of hers, but the craving stayed intense within her.
“Helena, I wanted something different for you.”
His voice was hoarse, thick with need she suspected. She kissed his chest.
“Different?” Her hands sought the hem of her tunic. She would be rid of the garment.
His gaze slanted down to the skirt going up her thighs. “I wanted to be slower. We’re moving too fast.”
Off went the fair tunic, the fine cloth forgotten. Long tresses curtained her to her hips. Hakan’s stare burned hot and hard. Looking down, she caught sight of what snared him: her nipples peeked through a skein of dark hair.
Calloused fingers brushed her hair aside, the friction sparking another fire. His thumb rolled a gentle circle on one nipple. Bliss coursed through her, settling between her legs. All of her moved wanting more touched than those small points. The coarse bear pelt rubbed her backside while rough-skinned fingers played with her tenderest flesh. He stared, fascinated with her breasts, his light caresses pushing her to a cliff of need.
She could lie this way a very long time, but Hakan was still half dressed. Though they said not a word, she glanced at his trousers. He followed her sightline, his hand giving up fondling her breast when her fingers curled around the top of his trousers and tugged.
The mystery of men was at long last revealed to her.
Hakan reclined before her, dim light washing over every naked inch of him. He was as comfortable bare as he was in leather. Blonde hair covered his wide shoulders, some strands reaching over his chest, a chest honed from battle, marked with scattered scars. His stomach was a row of knotted muscle. No excess flesh. Long legs, thick and full stretched over the pelt. Even his feet looked beautiful, long and well-formed, the arch begging to be kissed.
But between his legs…the hard length of him jutted high.
One investigative finger traced him from the top of his thighs. Her lone finger trailed the underside of his maleness, circling the tip at various places. Light, grazing circles. Mesmerizing. Inquisitive. She did this for a time, even leaning in for a closer look.
His hands fisted the pelt. Small beads of sweat sprung from his body.
“Helena.” His breath sucked inward, carrying her name.
She became aware of Hakan. Or the rest of him at least. So intent was she in her exploration of his manhood. Though not an expert in these matters, she understood his need. Her eyes locked with his, drugged and heady all the more with looking into his eyes. She lay down on the bear pelt and spread her legs wide to him.
Trusting him in this simple act would be the end of one life and the beginning of another.
He moved over her. She shivered from a mix of sensations: the cool air, the heat of Hakan’s body, the prickle of his leg hair against her.
She pulled his head down to hers. “Kiss me.”
He did. Sometimes feverish. Sometimes slow. Desire built from the fullness in her breasts, spreading embers across the plane of her belly. Water slapped a rhythm outside the ship. Amidst the kisses, his fingers reached between her legs, stroking her. From somewhere inside the hold she heard her groans of pleasure.
With the pleasure so intense, her body melted in a haze of awareness. Hakan commanded her, her body no longer her own. With every kiss, every touch of his hands, her hips bucked and swayed upward, reaching for a place not yet known.
He placed a firm hand low on her abdomen, holding her to the hard floor. The more pressure he gave, the more he received. Her body jumped with the shock of a single touch. She curled like a cat, then stiffened, wailing a keening cry of ecstasy. A peak of satisfaction. One hand clawed at the bear pelt underneath, the other grabbed at Hakan. She opened her eyes, panting, licking her lips.
“What…was…that?” Her breath was uneven, she lay limp.
Brushing back her hair, Hakan dropped small kisses on her damp forehead. “That, wife, was the beginning of my love for you.”
“The beginning?” she asked at once sinuous and spent. Her heart banged hard inside her chest, but between her legs were pleasant twitches.
“The beginning.” He kissed her cheek bones, her eyelids, the tip of her nose. “The beginning of the rest of tonight and the rest of our lives.”
“There is more?” She felt shaky with disbelief.
Hakan took her hand and placed it on the hardness between his legs.
“There is more.” He kissed a trail down her neck and through her cleavage.
The strange and pleasing heat flowered again, this time more rapidly. The urgent pressure formed again in her questing hips. She needed to explore him, her hands moving to discover the curve of his buttocks. She liked the top of his leg, where the muscles creased with the supple hardness. Her love moved to lay across her, both hands on either side of her face.
“Helena…” There was tightness around his mouth, his eyes.
His plea was understood. There would be pain.
Tipping her head back, she reached between her legs and guided him to her. Oh, it was clear what fit and where, but what to do? Quivers played across her flesh, nerves and pleasure bundled together. Holding him in her hand, she played, laughing a little until the shocking connection was made. His smooth, rounded tip eased into her.
Her eyes widened at the searing desire — the desire to fill herself with him. He held himself over her.
“Does it hurt?” His voice was deep and thick.
“Nay…it—” she sucked in her breath, “—you…feel,” she pushed more. “…good.”
A building need made her push her hips back and forth, up and down. Her legs bent at the knees, allowing him to push further inside her. Her body trembled, betraying the pain she felt.
“Helena?” Hakan kissed and soothed her. He didn’t move.
Quiet, she reveled in the newness, her eyes spreading wide. The pain, an aching pressure, speared her. The shattering feel touched everywhere, and the memory of dropping a glass vial came to mind. Glass had splintered everywhere, at once beautiful yet sharp. Her lungs labored, sucking deep breaths, and then the pain subsided. A new sensation flooded her, enticing and warm.
“Ohhhhh, Hakan,” she moaned.
“Take your pleasure, Helena,” he whispered, then devoured her lips.
And all of her opened to him. Not simply her mouth but her body, heart, and soul. Rocking and swaying against each other, they moved as one slow at first, then faster. The stinging heat between her legs melted into bliss again but deeper.
They pitched back and forth. Harder and faster. The ship could be lurching hard for all she knew. Sweat pricked her skin. Her body shook and trembled. She held on tight unable to let go.
Then she cried out, shattered by colors like bursts of sunlight, then light and dark enveloping her. Circles of pleasure flickered and danced, starting inside her and rippling out, licking a blazing trail.
She lay spent, her limbs tangled with his. Their breath was heavy, mingling and resonant, in the belly of the ship. Neither said a word for quite some time. Then, Hakan lifted his head, whispering those unknown Viking words, tender words by the sound. He rolled onto his side and cupped her into his warmth. Hakan tucked her head under his chin, throwing his red woolen mantle over them both.
Where to find Norse Jewel?