Ragnar – Sky Purington

I am no coward,” Myrna whispered, cursing her shaky voice and trembling body. She squeezed her hands together and tried to gather herself. How could she have done that? How could she have fled right past her chieftain Domnall’s dwelling and left him alone on his death bed with no one to protect him but his elderly wife, Feidelm? Vikings were coming, and there was no stopping them. Now Eithne and Rhiannon had gone down to the shore to do God knew what. Surrender? Plead for their lives? Rhiannon would never. She would fight first. But Eithne? She would do whatever it took to keep their village safe. Just like Myrna should. After all, she was a healer. Long ago, she had vowed to see to her people, care for them. Yet look at her now. She had left two elders to fend for themselves so she could cower in the woodland. What good would this do her? Once those Vikings raided, it would be over. There would be no escaping them. Yet for all her reasonable thoughts, she remained frozen in place, staring wide-eyed at her mostly abandoned village.

Just put one foot in front of the other and get back to your chieftain. Do for him what he would have surely done for you. “He would want you to protect yourself,” her husband, Talorc, would have said if he were here. “Not stand in front of him and his wife trying to wield a blade you are loath to use.” “I should have listened to you, husband,” she murmured. “I should have let you train me so I could be of better use right now.” She clenched her hands tighter. Eithne had reappeared alongside a monster Viking and his fellow warriors. How was her friend standing so peaceably beside him and not ravaged on the shore by the lot of them? Yet another act of cowardice on Myrna’s part that she had not trailed them down there to begin with and helped any way she could. “Modwen? Ailsa? Can you hear me?” Eithne called out.

Her gaze swept over the forest then seemed to linger on Myrna’s location. Did she see her? Any of them? “Myrna? It is Eithne. It is safe to return. Ytha? Is anybody there?” Myrna pulled her cloak tighter around her shoulders against the cool wind and shook her head ‘no’ before she nodded ‘yes.’ While terror simmered just beneath the surface, she should listen. Take a step. Move. Yet still, she remained frozen. “Jesu, what is she doing?” Myrna narrowed in on Feidelm who had just appeared at her dwelling’s door. Eithne rushed over and spoke to her, hopefully saying what Myrna would have: “Get back inside away from the savages.

” Does that warrior who was by Eithne’s side seem so savage-like, though? her deceased husband said into her mind, forever the voice of reason. Truly look at him, wife. He has not harmed your friend, has he? The men with him are not pillaging our village, are they? “Not yet,” she muttered, knowing full well he was right, however hard to believe. As a rule, she tried to seek calm within a crisis, to react to her environment with a cool head rather than with emotions. She had to if she hoped to help people. Heal them. Emotions could cloud a clear mind, and nothing was more important than thinking well when tending to the wounded and sick. She had lost enough lives to have learned that lesson. “Look at that,” she whispered. The monster Viking had ordered one of his men to bring a bench over so Feidelm could sit.

It was that unexpected act of kindness that calmed Myrna’s nerves considerably. These might be ruthless, warring men, yet whatever transpired was not a prelude to battle but something else. While savage-looking and well-armed, not one rested their hand on the hilt of their weapon. By all appearances, they were not preparing to wreak havoc. Not yet. When the monster Viking ducked into Domnall’s dwelling, Myrna’s shoulders tensed. Was he set to slay him where he lay? Unlikely. If he were, Eithne would be acting differently. So what could they be speaking about? A Viking who was clearly in charge and a Pict chieftain? Whatever it was, the man eventually stepped out, and no battle ensued. “Enough is enough,” she finally muttered, finding the courage she had lacked before.

“I must face this…whatever it may be. I must set an example.” So she stood tall, kept the smoothest expression she could muster, and at last made her way back. That, as it happened, seemed to give others courage, too. Slowly but surely, people reappeared. She ignored the interested glances of the Vikings and nodded in passing to Eithne that she would see to Domnall. Whatever was going on, her friend wasn’t ready to talk yet. Or perhaps the monster Viking by her side had ordered her not to. Either way, Myrna had little doubt she would find out what was going on eventually. “All is well, child,” Domnall murmured while she saw to his comfort.

“Let me rest now.” “I should have been here sooner,” she said softly, acknowledging her matriarch, Feidelm, who had joined them. “Instead, I turned coward and fled like the others when I should have come here.” She hung her head. “Forgive me.” “There is nothing to forgive.” Feidelm’s kind eyes sought hers. “Your place was out there lest anyone got wounded. Not in here seeing to us.” She rested her hand over Myrna’s, her gaze wise.

“You need to go out there now and be strong for the others. Strong for all of us.” She squeezed her hand. “Now is the time for courage.” The way she spoke and her hard, yet compassionate gaze, were telling. Eithne had done something to cause that look. Something that had to do with those Vikings. She found out what soon enough when she and Feidelm joined the others outside. The monster Viking named Brandr—Jarl of the Skalanes—ordered Eithne to one side of him and Feidelm to the other before the unthinkable was announced. Women of child-bearing age would be wedding one of these Vikings.

Myrna would be wedding one of them. Unless she chose to leave, which she would never do. Though everything seemed to go into slow motion, her mind grew sharper. She recognised the sensation as one she’d experienced when dealing with the wounded in the midst of battle. A calm focus at odds with her racing heart and sweaty palms. Shock, she supposed. Shock you need to get over, Talorc echoed in her mind. You must face this as you would face anything. Must she? Truly? She touched her facial scar absently, barely remembering what it felt like to be with a man. To be desired.

And now this? Handed over to one who only meant to rut with her? But then, there could be worse fates. She could be lying on the ground with her throat slit open. It was that—recognising the cold, hard truth—that snapped her out of her stupor long enough to concentrate on the chosen men who had been summoned from the longships. More so, she narrowed in on the hilt of a dagger at one warrior’s waist. Specifically the Zshaped rod with a serpent symbol carved into it. The workmanship was exceptional, not to mention the miniscule adjustment to the design familiar. Too familiar. Why would a Viking be carrying a blade with a Pict symbol? That particular symbol? Emboldened by curiosity, her gaze shot to his eyes, and once again, time seemed to slow before it stilled. His steady gaze was already locked on her, his dark-brown, near-black eyes angry and accusing. As if she had done him some great disservice.

But how could that be? They had only just met. Or was it the situation as a whole? Breathing became difficult, and her heart pounded harder. Everything dwindled down to him. Towering, muscled, and broad-shouldered, he had darkish, wheat-coloured hair interwoven with small braids, and his masculine, angular face was surprisingly handsome. Or so she surmised beneath his vicious scowl. With his fierce attitude and lightning bolt tattoo zigzagging down the side of his neck, he surely terrified those who might soon become his wife. What fate would they have with him? Violence? Abuse? Endless beatings? How else could it be? It does not have to be. Not if she found a way to keep them safe. But how to do that? Step forward and offer herself up? Give herself over to the brooding beast before he ended up with another? That would probably be best. Stop him now lest he eventually hurt someone.

So she went to step forward only to stop short when a commotion erupted. Roaring in fury, more Vikings poured forth from a path leading down to the ships. Many villagers fled in terror before called to a halt. As they soon learned, Rhiannon had stabbed none other than Brandr’s brother, Bjorn. With a clinical eye, Myrna watched Bjorn be set down. The man was not in good shape. Brandr knelt beside his brethren, fearful as he roared at his men for water, all of whom appeared caught off guard by the situation. Not her, though. Focussed, she swung into action and flew to Bjorn’s side. Unwanted marriage pact or not, enemy or not, she would see to this man.

It could be no other way. So she issued orders and did what she needed to do. Eithne returned with her basket of herbs, and Myrna pressed some into the wound and then bound it tightly to stem the blood flow. Once she had Bjorn settled elsewhere, she would wash the wound thoroughly with boiled water then pack it with a special poultice containing a dash of yarrow, an effective healing plant that helped fight infection. Myrna got to her feet and spoke to Brandr, sure to keep her tone respectful but firm, her words a mix of Pictish and broken Norse. “The wound is deep but not as bad as it appeared at first.” Her gaze returned to Bjorn, who moaned softly, drifting in and out of consciousness. “If there is no infection, then mayhap…” She looked to Brandr again and nodded once, showing the calm, confident strength he needed to see. “Have your men carry him to Domnall’s cottage. I will tend to him there, along with our chief.

” Unfortunately, she had barely begun administering to Bjorn a short time later when Feidelm appeared at the door, her eyes concerned yet strong. “’Tis time, Myrna. You must go choose your husband, then you can return.” They meant to do that now? With one of their fellowmen’s life at stake? “Can they not wait?” she argued, determined to remain with Bjorn. “He must be seen to now.” “They will not wait.” Feidelm’s tone left no room for argument. “Go, Myrna. You can see to him again soon enough.” Suffice it to say, men were sent to temporarily replace her so she could participate in the selection process.

One, as luck would have it, that not only worked in her favour but was rather quick and to the point. She and the other women turned away while the men buried their daggers to the hilt in the ground. Then the women would choose a blade, and its owner became her future husband. So protecting the other women from the cruellest-looking Viking was simple enough in the end. She yanked free the blade with the Pict symbol before anybody else could. Ready for whatever came her way, she stood tall when the ill-tempered warrior stopped in front of her. She held out the blade hilt-first, and narrowed her eyes. His eyes narrowed back then dropped to the blade, lingering a moment before languidly returning to her steady, defiant gaze. She tilted her head in question, ignoring the power radiating off him, his pure, unfiltered strength and simmering anger. With a light layer of stubble on his strong jaw and a sensual cut to his lips, he was even more attractive up close.

His thickly lashed, ebony-flecked eyes were the Devil’s own as they stayed with hers. The top of her head barely came to his shoulders, but she held herself as if they were equals. Best that he know now she would not go down without a fight. Needless to say, he did not seem all that threatened but mayhap a smidge incredulous while clearly contemplating her fate. Rallying her courage, she remained silent, cocked a brow, and urged him to take the dagger. To acknowledge that this thing between them was done and his wrath would be taken out on no one but her. He met her action by raising a single brow as well and holding her gaze a moment longer. Then, finally, he took the dagger. That was it. Her husband was chosen.

Done with him, she spun on her heel and headed back to see to Bjorn. It did not occur to her until she neared Domnall’s dwelling that she knew naught her betrothed’s name. Did she want to, though? Was it so important in a forced marriage? Or would simply spreading her thighs for him be enough? Something told her that might be wishful thinking. That their alliance was going to be a tad bit more complicated. She glanced back before she entered the dwelling and knew she was right because the Viking’s steady gaze remained locked on her. More pointedly, his seething intent was clear as day when their eyes met one last time. She might think things were on her terms, but she had never been more wrong.

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