Highlander’s Viking Seductress – Fiona Faris

We will raid the west again.” Jarl Stáli’s declaration made the crowd at the feast holler. Idunn was among them, clattering her stone cup of mead onto the table with exhilaration. The cacophony of cups thudding against the long wooden table was soon quietened by the Jarl, who urged for silence. He beckoned with his hands at the far side of the table in the longhouse. As he spoke, his voice echoed up to the tall wooden timbers of the cavernous ceiling above. “My folk, we have seen the signs. The omens are good. As the weather changes and the new moon rises, we will return to Scotland.” The Jarl was a dominating figure. His height, bold features, and heavy build made him the most imposing person in the room. As he threw his thick arms into the air to emphasize his words, cheers broke out again, and Idunn joined them. Scotland. She had a particular love for that part of the west. In their last raids, she had grown fascinated by the landscape, the castles, and even the food, so different from their own.

She recalled her last visit there – on a raid, she had tried a smoked fish that was a local delicacy, and she had craved the taste ever since. “Join me, my warriors,” the Jarl continued, waving his arms at the gathered crowd. Idunn tossed her braid of light blonde hair over her shoulder and stood with the rest of the warriors in the room, raising their cups in a toast. She stood shorter than the men around her, but few in the room could match her fierceness in battle. Her physique was strong, and she could hold her own against any challenger. The Jarl waited until he had his warriors’ attention, his gaze flicking between them, almost one at a time. Briefly, he found Idunn’s, and his lips quirked into a greater smile. With a last sweep of the room, he thrust his own bejeweled cup to the ceiling. “To battle. For Tyr, the God of War!” The old man’s battle cry was matched by the sinews of the muscles in his stretching neck.

His words were echoed by the warriors and everyone downed their glasses, tipping their heads back and allowing the liquid to dribble into their beards. Idunn winced at the sweetness of the mead as it tickled her tongue. She tossed the cup back onto the table as chatter broke out again and hurried to find Signý on the far side of the feasting table. With each step, excitement bubbled within her stomach. When she reached her friend’s side, she pulled at her apron dress excitedly. “Signý, Scotland again.” “Já, I thought you would like that one.” The young woman smiled as she turned to Idunn. “Say you will come, Signý,” Idunn begged her friend, “You know as well as I that we are never so good in battle as when we are together.” “Idunn, calm.

” “How can I be calm?” She jumped excitedly, rearranging the ermine’s fur on her shoulders that would keep her warm in the autumn months. Thick and brown with an underbelly of white hair, she had slain it but a month before to see her through the cold of the year. “Think of it, the two of us in Scotland again.” “Idunn, listen to me.” Signý took her hand and dragged her away from the feasting table to the corner of the room in the shadows of the orange candlelight. “I cannot go with you this time,” Signý shook her head, and the brown curls of her hair bobbed around her face. “But… We always fight together,” Idunn straightened her spine, wary of her friend’s words, “Practically since we were bairns.” “I know, my friend, but I am married now.” Signý’s bright eyes, bathed in the light of the amber candles, looked across the room to where her husband sat at the feasting table, Hallvardr. Idunn could see the admiration in her gaze and followed its direction.

Hallvardr was a warrior in his own right, but he owned a great farm on the outskirts of Oslo too. His family lands were a key part of the town’s wool trade, and he was responsible for its upkeep. On Signý’s marriage, she would have to take on the duties as a farmer’s wife as well as a warrior. “He fell in love with you because you were a warrior, not because you were a farmer.” Idunn folded her arms, reluctant to release her closest friend to the company of another. It had been just the two of them for so long, the idea of having to do a raid without Signý made Idunn shift uncomfortably. “I know, but we are only just married. I wish to stay and spend some time with him. Is that not natural?” Signý teased with raised eyebrows. “I suppose so,” Idunn gave way to a smile, shifting on her feet.

“Besides, there is much fun to be had in being alone with your husband.” “I shall take your word for it.” “For now,” Signý laughed, “You will see in time.” Signý pointed towards Idunn’s betrothed across the room, yet she did not turn to look at him. “But what shall I do without you? We are a partnership in battle. It is our tradition to go together, and –” “Já, my friend. Next time, I promise you that I will be there. It is just this raid I wish to stay behind from. It is not a stance I wish to take forever.” “As you wish,” Idunn’s smirk grew wider with mischief, “Consider it your loss when I’m riding through Scotland with all the wealth I’ve pillaged, and you’re churning butter.

” “Ha!” Signý offered her arm in a warrior’s handshake that Idunn took gladly, hand to elbow. They took hold with a good slap and shook firmly. “I do not doubt it, and I expect all the stories when you return. I will want to know everything that has passed.” “All of them? Even the grisly details of battle?” “You know I love those.” “I do. So I know you will grow tired of playing the part of a farmer’s wife very quickly.” Idunn’s smirk made her friend chuckle. “You know me well, my friend. Share a drink with me before I have to return to my husband, and before you have to return to your betrothed.

” “Já, I must be with you while I can.” She followed Signý back to the table, trying to cover her sadness with a forced smile, pulling at the muscles in her cheeks. It made her all the more aware of the falseness. She knew battle would not be the same without Signý. It could have been the superstitious part of her believing they brought each other luck, but her practical mind knew it was because they were accustomed to fighting together. They knew each other’s vulnerabilities and were able to compensate for them in combat. Together, they had been unstoppable. Where one was weak, the other was strong, and Idunn detested any sign of weakness. Without Signý, her own failings would show. “Here, what shall we toast?” Signý passed her a horn cup, full to the brim of sweet mead.

“To husbands?” Signý’s loving eyes passed from Idunn to where Hallvardr sat at the feast. Idunn swallowed against her protest for a second. Her own eyes did not seek out where her betrothed sat at the same table. She supposed they should have, but she did not want the moment to be tainted by anyone. In the end, her protest found her lips. “Nei.” Her firm word drew back Signý’s gaze. She pressed their cups together in the toast. “How about, to a new life instead? For us?” “A new life?” Signý’s thin lips quirked into a smile, “Já, I like that.” “To a new life,” they said together, gulping down the mead and clattering their cups down on the table with a heavy thud.

Idunn retreated outside as the celebrations grew. Behind her, she could hear the pipe music, the singing, and the constant tap-tap caused by the warriors dancing. Yet she kept her focus on the fjord in front of her. The deep blue valley was framed by two dark mountains, mere silhouettes at this time of night. Above them hung a dappling of stars that reflected in the water in front of her feet. Her toes were so close to the edge of the fjord that with each lap, the water almost brushed her cow-hide boots. Out here, there was peace, allowing her to think. She understood Signý’s reasons for not wanting to go, but it was an ominous sign. They had always gone into battle together, and Idunn was happy to accept that going without Signý made her a little nervous. Idunn wrapped the ermine tighter around her shoulders, watching as her breath clouded the night air.

She peered down at the water, watching as her murky reflection appeared in the gentle current. Her light blonde hair was braided and hung over her shoulder in a tangle. She could not discern the color of her eyes in the darkness, but they were large, framed by her firm eyebrows. She knew her eyes were a mixture of blue and green, something that had startled her betrothed on their first meeting. As though summoned by her thoughts, a silhouette appeared beside her in the water. Taller and broader than she, it was a familiar figure Idunn had grown accustomed to seeing. “Idunn? Why are you not at the feast?” It was Einarr. She turned to see him and forced herself to smile. He was a handsome man with long light-brown hair and eyes the color of the blue sky. Toned from his many years in battle, he was always a strong presence in any room.

When their courtship had begun, many women had been jealous of Idunn’s position. This was not only because of his handsome countenance but the fact he was Jarl Stáli’s son and heir. With her eyes darting across Einarr’s features, she partly understood Signý’s desire to stay behind from the raid. She supposed that once she was married, she would have the same passion. Though at that moment, she enjoyed his company as much as she did anyone else’s. She presumed the want to be alone with him would come with time. “I needed some air,” the lie tripped easily off her tongue, “The fire inside is strong.” “Nei. You are excited about my father’s announcement? That is what is on your mind. I can see it, Idunn.

” “You can see it?” “Já. Your eyes, sæta. They are windows to your thoughts.” She looked away sharply, back to the great hall where the dancing was taking place. If her eyes were so easy to read, then she hoped he could not see how much she detested his nickname for her. Sæta. It meant sweet. “Já, I am very excited. Did your father tell you beforehand?” “He did. It so happens that I am to lead our raid.

” At his proud words, her head snapped round to look up at him. “You are?” “It seems my father must stay behind, so he has put his trust in his eldest son.” He placed a hand on his heart with false modesty. Idunn could not help but laugh at his charm. It was a way he had – he could charm anyone to do anything he wanted. She had once said he could persuade a thirsty fish to leave the water. “Your first raid as our leader? And to so far a place as Scotland? It is a long journey—a hard one at that. There is also the terrain of the place; it gives us many challenges. Já, to put you in command, the Jarl truly has put his trust in you.” “And why ever should he not?” he smiled with a jest, “I have proven myself many times.

Both on the battlefield and here in Oslo. I am a born warrior and leader.” “Já, but you have also proved you are perhaps not the most modest of men.” Her wit was something that not all welcomed, but Einarr never appeared to mind. “What would I need modesty for?” he laughed, and moved to take her hand. He laced their fingers together, pulling her towards him. “Do you not think me a fortunate man? I have position, status, strength, and a warrior woman to marry me. How could I be modest with so much to enjoy?” Idunn thought she should be feeling something more. Perhaps there should be warmth from his hand in hers or excitement from his words. She felt content; that was certainly true.

Perhaps that was love? “Be careful, Einarr!” she cried, making him dart his head to the side. “What is it?” “They say pride comes before one falls and hurts themselves.” “Mischievous woman,” he laughed and pulled her with him, “Come, let us return to the celebrations before we are missed.” “Wait.” At a sudden squawk, she pulled tightly on his hand, urging him to stop. “What is it?” “Shh!” She ushered for him to be quiet, as her eyes darted past the nearby townhouses and across the fjord. The squawk echoed against the mountains again, and Idunn saw a brief dash of black across the large white moon. She tore her hand from Einarr’s grasp and hurried back to the water’s edge. “Idunn, it is only a bird.” He made no move to follow, and she did not wish to reply.

She stood at the water’s edge, her head flicking back and forth until she found the bird. With the third squawk, the bird landed. On a rock but a few yards away from her, the raven stood. With his great black wings and ochre beak, he turned his head to the side, with one beaded eye watching her. Its black feathers gleamed in the moonlight, and its feet were but withered claws. Idunn grasped the edges of the ermine’s fur across her shoulders, watching the bird back with as much intensity. “See, sæta, it is just a bird. Come back to the celebrations.” She turned away reluctantly, her feet moving quickly beneath her. She did not look at Einarr as she passed, but her thoughts found her voice.

“It is not just a bird, Einarr. It is a raven. Ravens are omens.” “Do not be so superstitious,” Einarr’s tone was firm as he followed her, as she looked back towards him with sharp eyes. In the corner of her gaze, she could still see the raven with its head tilted to one side.

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