Strian – Celeste Barclay

Strian looked over his shoulder at the woman rowing just two benches behind him. Other Norsemen surrounded her, but she appeared out of place and alone. Despite trying to remain focused on navigating his ship towards the fjord just beyond his home, Strian Eindrideson failed to overcome the temptation to look back at Gressa time and again. Gressa Jorgensdóttir refused to lift her gaze from the shoulder blades of the people seated in front of her. She followed the rhythm of the other rowers as her oar dipped and slid first through the water then in the air before returning to the water. She could feel Strian’s eyes on her even though she had not looked up in hours. She refused. She refused to acknowledge him, and she refused to acknowledge her own feelings, or rather the ones he stirred in her. She forced her mind to focus on the motions needed to keep her oar synchronized with the other rowers. She would not allow herself to think about how her hands, blistered and raw, ached from rowing for hours after not having touched an oar in years. She would not think about how her stomach rumbled from refusing anything but the most meager amounts of food; one of the few rebellious acts available to her. She would not think about how once again fate forced an abrupt sacrifice of the life she had. She would not think about Strian. There was far more for her not to think about than what she was willing to entertain, but her attempts to force her mind away from the painful topics only made them linger in the forefront of her mind even more. Gressa caught herself before she shook her head.

Strian gave up all attempts at ignoring Gressa the second day aboard his ship. It was an exercise in futility to pretend she did not exist. He had never been able to ignore her, and ten years of separation had not changed that. Gressa stood out from the rest with her heart-shaped face, dark brown hair, and deep blue eyes with their almond shape, giving proof to her Sami heritage. None of her clothes resembled the ones he remembered. Gone were the conical rolled toes on her boots or the beading at the hems of her wrists and collar that she wore at home. The more subdued forest colors of a Welsh bowman replaced her Sami clothing. Her clothes had always made her stand out, first as a Sami and now as a Welshwoman. But Strian knew the clothes did not matter. His memories clutched to the images of Gressa when she was undressed.

He snapped his eyes back to the water and slammed the door shut on those memories. They had haunted him ever since he last saw Gressa, and now they caused a painful knot to squeeze his heart. “Captain, Tyra’s given the signal that we are only five knots from the entrance to the fjord. We will be home soon.” Strian nodded once to his first mate and followed the man to the stern where he took the rudder from one of his oarsmen. Now that Strian was behind Gressa, it was easier for him to watch her. It was not so obvious when she was in his line of sight as he navigated the ice and sandbars. He had been sailing in and out of his homestead’s natural harbor since he was a child. He could spare some of his attention and continue to watch Gressa. The linen shirt she wore stuck to her sweaty body, and he could see the muscles ripple through her back and shoulders as she continued to row.

He watched her head twist slightly to the side as though she might look back at him. He knew she was aware he watched her, but he had caught her staring at him just as many times. Strian guided his longboat into the harbor and docked beside Bjorn’s and Tyra’s boats. He avoided Freya because their falling out just before they left Scotland remained unresolved. Strian knew Freya felt guilty for their argument, and he did not enjoy being at odds with one of his oldest friends, but he would not overlook her high handedness as their leader or her unwillingness to hear why he wanted to remain in Scotland. Strian approached Gressa and waited until she noticed him. It was only a matter of a heartbeat before she looked up at him. “Stay next to me,” Strian whispered. When Gressa looked ready to object, Strian raised an eyebrow in warning. “It’s been ten years.

” Gressa sucked in a breath and looked at the place where she had grown up. “Everything looks different but it still all looks the same,” she breathed. “You’re right about that. Much is different, but the people are the same.” “Then you should have left me in Scotland,” Gressa hissed. “They won’t want me now any more than they did before I left.” “Is that why you hid? Is that why you didn’t try to find me?” Strian’s deep voice rumbled in his chest, and Gressa could feel it as he leaned against her shoulder. He intended his words for only her ears. “Does it matter?” She knew those were the words that would push Strian away, giving her space to think, but she had not anticipated the depth of hurt she would see when she looked at him. He reeled back from her.

“Why would you ask that? Of course, it matters. You still haven’t told me what happened when we got separated.” “And I don’t intend to.” Gressa’s mind filled with images of the battle they fought side by side then the injury that nearly killed her. She remembered being near death and calling out for Strian, but he never came. This brought back memories of the past ten years she had spent building a life in Wales. “You will explain one of these days. If you won’t volunteer the information to me, then Jarl Ivar will demand it. You still wear your fealty ring at your wrist. I’ve seen it several times.

” Strian did not wait for her answer before grasping her upper arm and pulling her towards the gangplank that was lowered to the dock. His hold was not so tight that Gressa could not have broken away, but she did not want to. Try as she might, she still longed for any contact with Strian that she could manage. Her pride railed at him maneuvering her about like livestock, but every other part of her longed for their bodies to touch. “What will you do with me?” “I told you before we left, I changed my mind. You are not a thrall. I said it in anger and hurt,” the last word coming out more of a mumble. “I couldn’t have made you one in truth, and there is no point in pretending. You are a free woman just as you were before.” “Being a thrall would be better,” Gressa grumbled.

“And why is that?” Strian’s curiosity got the better of him. He could not imagine Gressa ever accepting being a slave. “I would be safer.” “What do you mean? You are returning to our people. You grew up here, and everyone knows your family.” “Exactly. Everyone knows I’m half Sami.” Gressa glared at Strian waiting for him to understand. She wanted to tap her toes with impatience as she waited for him to piece it together, but it did not seem to get any clearer to Strian the longer she waited. “It was bad enough that my father captured my mother and made her his concubine, but when she died giving birth to me, and I wasn’t a boy, it made me completely useless in his eyes.

You know all of this. You heard him.” “I do, but I don’t see how that has to do with your safety. You’re home.” Gressa balled her fists and wanted to lash out at him for being so dimwitted. “This isn’t my home. How many times must I tell you that my home and my people are in Wales? My father never wanted me, and neither do any of these Norsemen. To them, I’m tainted. I’m more Sami than Norse. In Wales, none of that mattered.

You should have left me where you found me.” Gressa felt the burn of tears behind her eyes, but she refused to allow any to fall. Strian leaned forward, nearly bending in half to look into her eyes. “You are home. You will be safe. And you are not going back to Wales!” He was nearly yelling by the time he finished. “Then my death will be on your hands because I promise you, I was safer in Wales. Damn it, I was safer fighting in Scotland.” “With Gr–” Strian did not have a chance to finish because it was their turn to disembark, and he could see Jarl Ivar and Frú Lena approaching. They had already greeted the others, and now it was his turn.

He tugged Gressa along beside him until they were both on the dock. “Strian, it is good—” Ivar’s eyes widened as he took in the slender figure standing next to Strian. “Gressa?” “Yes, Jarl Ivar. It’s me.” Gressa raised her chin, and the defiance was clear to everyone. “We thought you were dead. I made Strian— I mean, I forced— Dear gods, child. I’m sorry. I should have listened to Strian.” Almighty jarl’s loss of words frightened Gressa more than any threat he might have lobbed.

“Dear gods. Strian–” Ivar Sorensen’s shock was garnering attention that made both Strian and Gressa uncomfortable. The man was just as tall and as well muscled as Strian, who was more than twenty years his junior. It was disconcerting to see their leader so befuddled, and his face had lost all its usual ruddy color. “Gressa,” Lena intervened. “It fills my heart with happiness to see you return. Life has not been as sunny without you.” Coming from anyone else, Gressa would have felt Lena’s words were a barb, but she had known the woman her entire life. She was the only one in the homestead who had been willing to attend her birth, and even though Gressa’s mother did not survive the delivery, it was Lena who ensured Gressa had a place within their tribe. Lena brought Gressa into the jarl’s longhouse when it was obvious that her own father would not provide for her.

When the older woman opened her arms, it was the invitation she needed. Gressa lurched forward and allowed Lena to enfold her in an embrace that felt like home. Strian watched as Gressa willingly allowed Lena to hold her, and the jealousy and pain from being excluded burned a gaping hole in his heart. Gressa had not welcomed him as she did Lena. “I think you have much to tell us,” Lena smiled as the two women backed apart. “She has nothing to say that any of us want to hear,” called out Freya as she walked past. “She is a traitor, and she would have made Strian one, too. We should have left her where we found her. As Grímr’s woman.” Freya’s last three words, “as Grímr’s woman,” had the exact intended effect.

Strian pulled Gressa behind him and put his hand on his sword hilt. He challenged anyone to speak or come near him or Gressa. The crowd on the dock morphed from excited to vengeful with those three words. “Come to the longhouse. I think you have much to explain,” Ivar boomed. His lack of anger reassured Strian, but as Gressa clung to the back of his fur cloak, he knew she was unconvinced of her safety. As Strian looked around, he was certain she was right to fear the others. “Jarl,” Caution drove Strian’s choice of words. “There is plenty to tell and plenty to hear, but the others can do just as good a job as I can. Besides, Tyra and Bjorn are to marry tomorrow.

I heard the announcement before I even left my ship. I think it would be better if we didn’t appear in the great hall.” “Nonsense. That will only make it look like you have something to hide.” Ivar murmured. “Nothing will happen to Gressa. Anyone foolish enough to try, will answer to me.” The others left Strian on the dock with Gressa still clinging to him. He reached behind him and gently pulled her to stand beside him. “He’s wrong, Strian.

I know it. You shouldn’t have brought me here. I’m not safe.” Gressa looked around and saw that they were alone at last. She let the tears fall that she had been swallowing for days. Strian wrapped his arms around her loosely, and when she did not shy away, he pulled her to his chest. She burrowed into the familiar warmth and sobbed. She had fought her own will and Strian’s for the past fortnight, and exhaustion overcame her she was exhausted. She knew she would regret accepting this comfort, but she needed it as much as she needed her next breath. Strian ran his hands over her hair as his other arm wrapped around her waist, and his thumb drew circles on her ribs.

“You may not want it, you may not accept, you may not even believe you need it, but you will always have my protection, Gressa. Always.” Strian kissed the crown of her head, and he felt her tense before her entire body went lax. He was quick to catch her before she dropped to the ground. “Gressa?” She made a soft sound like a wounded animal then her eyes fluttered open. “Gressa, you’ve eaten so little since I found you. You insisted upon taking your turn at the oar, and you don’t have enough clothes for this far north. You will make yourself ill.” Strian paused for a moment as a thought came to him. “Is that what you’re trying to do? Are you trying to make yourself sick enough to die? Do you want away from me that badly?” Gressa looked tiny as she curled further into the warmth of Strian’s body.

She tried to shake her head, but the effort was too much. “No. I love you.” Those were the last words she spoke before she succumbed to blackness. Strian looked around, but there was no one else on the dock. He lifted Gressa into his arms and walked to his longhouse.


PDF | Download

Thank you!

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments © 2018 | Descargar Libros Gratis | Kitap İndir |
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x