Stolen By A Viking – TS Florence

O n Isla’s 16 th birthday, the course of her life would be altered. Moments before the changing of her life’s course, she was kneeling in front of Jack, by the blacksmith’s forge, across from the stables. The smell of smoke, hay and manure filled the air. “One would think you would learn to keep your arm from touching the red-hot steel, having a blacksmith from a father,” Isla rubbed the herbs on Jacks raw wound, red and angry from the touch of hot steel. This was not the first time she had treated such burns, and it would not be the last, she thought to herself as she stood to her feet. “Well it’s far more likely for me to get burned than a fisherman don’t you think my lady,” Jack smiled as he admired her handiwork. “You know how much I hate to be called that, Jack Ashborn.” Isla finished wrapping the burns Isla would not have turned away to look up at the gates if it were not for the sound of slamming windows, bolting doors, and mothers beckoning their children inside. It was the sound of silence, for the people of Isla’s town knew, when the savages come, you run and hide. Isla should have been with her father, up in the castle. She should have done what she was told, but she was headstrong since birth and did not leave her father, Henry the Duke of Newcastle, with an easy upbringing. It was not fitting for a young Duchess to be out in the streets with the sons of blacksmiths, and children of the street, but Isla could not be contained to the confines of the castle. She needed to roam the streets with dirt between her toes, fighting with Jack and teaching her brother how to climb trees. She was not born to be a duchess and her last name did not change that. Warriors with tattooed faces and long, tangled hair rode their horses towards the ramparts.

The Vikings had come to her father’s town to make a deal. Feared warriors throughout England, they were willing to rent out that reputation to the highest bidder. Useful mercenaries, was the term the slippery priest Leopold had used, when convincing her father to make a deal with the Vikings. Isla’s father, on the other hand, had one of the most pure spirits she had ever encountered, and he displayed this with his open affection for both Isla, an uncommon trait among Dukes and Kings. His (at times) overbearing affection made up for the fact that Isla grew up without a mother. He was ready to trust and slow to temper. Henry did not wish to re-marry, believing that his should only had one fit, and that was Isla’s mother. Isla’s old handmaid Margaret would tell Isla stories of her Irish-born mother, a renowned druid throughout her lands, known as a healer, and respected for her strong spirit and intuition. Margaret believes that when her mother did not die during child birth, but instead, her spirit was re-born with Isla. “Watch out, little Charley,” Isla pulled on the back of the boy’s tunic, bringing his head to her stomach, her instinct causing her to protect him from the approaching horses.

As Isla pulled the boy out of harm’s way, Jack, the blacksmith’s son, pulled her further under the blacksmith’s shelter. A young warrior rode a magnificent white beast at the front of the group of Vikings, through the impenetrable gates that kept evil outside the castle walls. On that day, there were no battle cries and there was no shield wall. These men were here to take only gold. The young warrior at the front sat on in his saddle with his back straight, and a huge sword strapped across his back. His muscled arms held onto the reigns lightly, his horse seemingly knowing where he wished to ride. A great white bear fur hung over his shoulders, making his already huge frame seem even larger. Isla had seen brown bears during carnivals, brought in by people using them to make money, but Isla had never seen a white bear. It seemed double the size of a normal brown bear, and that was without the meat and bones that it would have had when it was alive. His piercing eyes found Isla’s, causing her to feel an almost physical force pinning her to the ground from the sheer intensity of his stare.

The young warrior couldn’t be any older than 21 years old, yet he looked to be leading the group of men now in the town square. His size was immense, and made Isla feel small, standing before him atop his horse. Slowly, the horse rode all the way to the blacksmith’s shelter, and stopped. Ivar After a three hour ride to Newcastle, Ivar’s back was aching and his body sweating under the great white bear fur. “I still do not see why you needed to bring me to this meeting with the weak Englishmen” Ivar looked sideways his father, Bjorn, as they rode towards the castle gates. “You need to learn how to negotiate in their native tongue, son. It makes you stronger knowing these things” Bjorn said. “Why do they not learn our language?” Ivar asked, already knowing his father’s answer before he had spoken it. “Because they are weak, and weak men die,” Bjorn replied. They rode on in silence, their horses strutting through the gates into the great fort of Newcastle.

The silent streets were all the more apparent due to the echoes of the horses’ hooves piercing the empty air like a sword through fresh butter. Ivar believed that what he saw next was as close to a prophecy from the Gods as he had ever received. Was it Loki, the trickster god, playing a game with Ivar? The streets were cleared of all other people, except for a golden-haired girl, standing protectively over a younger boy, with another boy standing close by. This is why we came here. This girl will make my destiny. There was a fierceness in her eyes that made him doubt what his father always told him. That women make men weak. Surely not that one. The one that stood there, defiant, fierce, like the great white bear he had slain to become a man. Her eyes challenging his dominance.

“Why are you standing outside, girl?” Ivar stopped his great white horse outside of the smithy’s shelter. “You speak our language” the girl replied, surprise taking place over her defiance. “It is a necessity. Why are you outside?” Ivar hopped down from his horse. The older boy stepped forward to intercept Ivar from approaching Isla, but was met with the drawing of swords from several warriors close enough to take his head. “Jack please stay back, I would much rather it if you stayed alive rather than dead,” the blond-haired girl said, not letting her gaze leave Ivar’s. “That sounds like a good idea, Jack” Ivar said, his jaw twitching, as his father grabbed his shoulder. “We don’t have time for games today, son. We must proceed with the business” Bjorn grabbed the top of Ivar’s shoulder, pulling him back towards his horse. “I will meet you again one day” Ivar said to the girl, penetrating her soul with his gaze, feeling the intention behind his words and storing her face into his memory.

Yes, we will meet again, girl. For now we are bonded, and I know you felt it too. Isla believed him. Isla Isla sat next to her father, Duke Henry, pushing her dinner around on her plate. She could speak freely here as the noise of the rest of the great hall made it hard for anyone to listen in on conversations. “Do you think making a deal with those Vikings was a good idea?” “I think it was a necessity” He replied leaning in, whispering conspiratorially. “Why?” Isla asked “Because instead of paying them simply to not raid my lands and attack my people, I pay them to do my bidding in Scotland, keeping the border safe. That way my people have good harvests, unmolested by the Scots, and bring in a greater profit to the kingdom” he looked down at Isla, pausing to hold her hand before continuing. “You know, I mentioned you were out in the street with the smithy’s son, and the great Bjorn the Fearless’ son…. Ivar I believe his name was, was very interested in that piece of information” he winked at Isla.

“Father, you’re horrible! How could a savage be interested in someone like me,” Isla’s heart beat faster in her chest as she recalled the conversation with the formidable looking warrior with the great white bear fur hanging from his back, telling the world that he had faced greater monsters than they had ever imagined. “I think you’ll find them more sophisticated than you realize, my dear. Heaven knows, they bathe more often than we do. We could learn a thing or two from their ways.” He looked over the hall as he spoke now, a somber look on his face. Isla’s father had always been a deep thinker. That’s how he got to the position he was in now. He wasn’t born as royalty. He worked his way there through intelligence and befriending the right people. It was just chance that he naturally loved people.

His ability to think about the possibility of many consequences gave him an upper hand when dealing with warriors like the savages. “What does your brother Alfred think of your dealing with these savages?” Isla looked up at Henry. “He doesn’t like much of anything I do. He’s always been a jealous old fool, but that’s your Uncle.” “I don’t trust Uncle Alfred” Isla said. “Neither do I, sweet heart. What’s important is to always stay one step ahead of your competition,” said Henry. 2 2 years earlier Isla “A ny young woman would kill to be married off to a young handsome prince, or any prince for that matter. Even marrying an old fat prince would be better than a peasant or a farmer.” Margaret plaited Isla’s hair as she chided Isla for her attempts at persuading her to run away, to save her from the marriage.

“But Margaret, you never had to get married, you were fortunate enough to be a handmaid for your entire life. Oh, why couldn’t I have been born a man, to avoid being married off like a piece of cattle. Prince Tomlin is paying a great price for me, you know. I haven’t a clue why.” Isla looked out the window, her eyes weary. “‘Being a man isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either, you know. They have to go off to war. They fight in battles so we don’t have to.” Margaret said. “That’s the men’s fault for being so stupid as to go to war in the first place, there’s enough land and food for everyone without needing to fight for more,” Isla said.

The dress was lovely. All white, with elaborate embroidery. A dress fit for a princess. To get to the wedding alter, Isla would need to ride in the chariot through town, to the main church. The people of Newcastle were aware of the wedding and had taken to the streets to celebrate. Boys sung songs with Isla’s name in them and girls had yellow string plaited through their hair in imitation of Isla’s hair. People ran to the chariot, putting their hands out, signing their congratulations and praise. The people loved Isla, because Isla loved the people. Her father’s advisors had tried to prevent Isla’s roaming of the streets from a young age, that was until they saw the support that he had gained through their love for his daughter. And so it was that Isla was allowed to roam the streets, with her friend Jack Ashborn.

But today, Jack was at work, and Isla was being married to a prince who lived on the other side of the country. Isla blinked back tears as the card bounced up and down in sync with the dips and bumps of the cobble stone street. She had met the prince once, and sure enough he was a handsome young man, but she did not love him. Isla could not see how two people could be happy in life if they were to live with someone that they did not love. How could she give her body to a man she did not love? As the chariot finally pulled up, the crowd was immense. People were calling Isla’s name, asking for her blessings, asking if she would be leaving the town. How could she leave? These were the people she grew up with. Her father’s personal guards escorted her from the chariot and into the great church. Isla felt dizzy. Standing at the altar was Prince Tomlin.

Golden curls atop his head seemed to perfectly support the richly ornamented crown that he wore. The clothes he wore would have cost more than its weight in gold, enough to feed an entire town. The rest was a blur. Isla took Prince Tomlin’s clammy hands in hers, and said the vows she was told to say. And now her father had one of the most powerful alliances in all of England and Isla was to be whisked away to Chester, on the other side of the country. Isla wore this responsibility, for it was her duty. And what else was her duty than that to marry a rich and powerful prince, to allow her family to grow to one of the most influential in the country. Isla wore a smile that day, if not only to keep her family happy, but in an attempt to drown out the deafening screams of protest that her intuition was so desperately trying to get her to hear. Ivar Rage filled Ivar as he hacked his way through the howling Scotsmen. An Axe struck Bjorn’s skull and split him open from the top down, the insides of his skull spilling onto the battle field.

6 Scots. It took 6 Scots to take down his father. Ivar’s rage descended into fearlessness, causing him to charge the remaining Scots. He did not enjoy killing, but seeing his own damned father killed in front of his eyes caused his body to act before his mind could it. The battle was uphill. The Scots had the advantage of the land and also by the surprise attack. Ivar’s world turned upside down as a long-handled axe hooked around the bottom of his foot and flipped him onto his back. A sword struck down on the front of his face, causing blood to spill into his eyes. He rolled to his left, bumping into his father’s lifeless body, momentarily stopping to ensure that his hands was firmly wrapped around the hilt of his sword, granting him safe passage to Valhalla. Seeing another dead man to his left, he used the body to shield himself from another blow, before rising to his feet.

Finally, the last Scot received a sword through the chest, dropping him to the ground. At 22 years young, Ivar lost his father. His rage turned to grief as he tried to stand on the blood wetted mountainside, looking at all the young lives laid to waste. He gritted his teeth as he knelt down besides his father, ignoring his own wound he had just received on his face. Pushing down the grief, Ivar turned his head away from his father’s corpse. “We will carry my father’s body to the ocean and give him a proper Viking funeral. And then we travel back to England. The gods no longer want us here in Scotland.” Ivar was met with resounding agreement from the men. The English were too afraid to travel into Scotland, and so it was the Norse that did the bidding for the English in the cold northern country.

Now it was time to make some big changes. Magnus, never more than several feet away from Ivar in battle, knelt beside him. “We follow you now Ivar,” he said, putting an enormous hand on his shoulder. Magnus the Mighty was a suitable name for a man of his size, a full head taller than the tallest Northmen, he stood as a giant compared to Englishmen and Scots alike. After the half day walk to the ocean side, Ivar and his men were now on the border of England. The second half of the day was spent building a wooden raft, from freshly felled trees. Ivar replaced his father’s sword with his own, taking it as a legacy. The sword, named Moonlight, for its light silver and dark grey swirls in the steel, felt cold in Ivar’s hands. He looked at the blade with sorrow in his heart, vowing to himself that he would do his father and Moonlight proud, bringing great reputation and honor to both his name and the blade. Ivar the Cruel, as he is known amongst the Englishmen, Ivar Bjornson amongst his close friends, and Ivar the Clever amongst all Norsemen.

Soon, his name would be spoken from all men and women and children alike, across England. Skald the Cold, their best bowman, shot a lit arrow onto the raft once it was in the ocean, and they watched the raft catch alight and burn into the distance. Skald had a long lean build, and renowned for his speed in open combat and his accuracy with a bow and arrow, but his name earned for his emotionless gaze. A dead stare, like the great creatures from the ocean; no soul behind the eyes. The thought of having a child of his own crossed Ivar’s mind as he watched his father descend into the deep waters. Women make you weak, and weak men die. The words of Ivar’s father swirled in his head, trapping him in his own confusion and anger. He needed a son to carry on his name. To hand down he knowledge his own father had given him. He needed a legacy that did not involve slaughter and conquering of countries.

With Bjorn gone, they were weakened. He was the head of their clan, the brains and the backbone. Ivar was smart, but he had not led the men without his father’s guidance. Ivar knew they were vulnerable now, but without him, the clan would be nothing. He pulled his great white bear fur over his shoulders and turned towards England, knowing his men would follow without word. Winter was coming, and he needed to find shelter and food enough for an army, to last for the next four months. Ivar felt fate pulling him back to England.

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