Sword of Vengeance – Avery Maitland

Bersi Athulfsson lay on his back and stared up at the ceiling. It was late and his day had been filled with tasks that had kept him away from his mistress’ side, but that was how she had wanted it. Torunn’s refusal to accept her brother’s plans for her future was not unexpected, but Bersi had underestimated how stubborn she could be. He could not have known how she would react to Varin’s confession, but he had accepted it. He didn’t really have a choice in the matter. Slaves didn’t get to choose. His shoulders ached from hours of chopping wood and hauling water, and the cold weather had made his wounded leg painful. The old healer had warned him that the wound he had taken would give him a limp, but he had not warned that the winter months would turn him into an old man. Bersi listened to Torunn’s steady breathing and wished that he could sleep, but his mind would not stop turning. It had been months since Varin had confronted her with the truth about her father’s death, and his suspicions about her brothers’ involvement in it. He could feel her betrayal, he could see it in her eyes. She drank more than usual, and her words were often short and sharp, but she had not sent him away, which must have meant something—though he could not decide what it meant. “Why do you do it?” Torunn’s voice was hushed, but it startled him. He had thought she was asleep. “Do what?” “Why do you follow me everywhere? I give you tasks to keep you away from me, and somehow you are always there.

” “Someone has to have a care for your safety,” he said without hesitation. She snorted. “I tried to kill you.” “Several times,” he agreed. “That does not mean I wish to see you hurt.” “I am the daughter of a Jarl, sister to the current one… who would wish to see me hurt?” The question sounded bitter. An attempt had been made on her life, and Solva would have succeeded if she had not moved out of the way at the last possible moment. And there was no way to know how much danger she would be in if her brothers found out what she knew. “That is why I follow you. To make sure that does not happen.

” “You are a slave.” He sighed heavily. “I was not always a slave.” “No. You were a rebel.” He smiled in the dark. “Some things will never change.” “And what if you were given that chance again?” Her voice sounded closer, and Bersi turned his head in surprise. He could see a faint outline above the edge of the bed, but could not be sure if it was her. “I would do as I was commanded,” he said softly.

He heard movement as she slid across the bed, and he braced one elbow on the floor to raise himself up, curious as to what was happening, but before he could move, Torunn rolled off the bed and landed on top of him. He let out a grunt of surprise as she straddled him, pinning him to the ground. She slept naked, and he knew that there was nothing between them but the blanket she had pulled with her and the breeches he still wore. He lay still, his heart hammering in his chest as she leaned over him. He could smell the warmth of the honeyed mead she drank mixed with something sweeter that he could not place. He closed his eyes and willed his body not to react to her weight on top of him, but the urge to put his hands on her body was almost too powerful to push aside. “And what if I commanded you to do something else?” she whispered. Her lips were inches from his and he ached to kiss her. “I would do as my mistress asked,” he replied. She tugged at the blanket that covered his chest and ran her hand over the exposed flesh.

Spring was on the way, but the nights were still cold, and he sucked in a short breath as goosebumps rushed over his skin. She chuckled softly. “Such an obedient slave. Every woman would be jealous of such a thing.” Torunn moved her hips and rubbed herself along the length of his cock. Against his fervent wishes, the damned thing had a mind of its own, and her movement awakened the lust that had been smoldering inside him since the day he had kissed her. He bit back a groan, but she chuckled softly to hear it. “My brothers fuck their slaves whenever they wish,” she whispered in his ear. “I should be able to do the same, do you not agree?” Bersi gritted his teeth and stifled another groan as she arched her back and pressed herself against him. Her breasts rubbed tantalizingly against his chest and he wanted nothing more than to grab her and throw her beneath him so that he could show her how a warrior took a woman… She revelled in her teasing, and he was powerless to act.

“No reply?” she asked softly. “I am disappointed in you.” “I—” His reply was choked and he thought he could see her smile. “Perhaps I can tempt you before I command you,” she whispered. Her lips trailed over his cheek and pressed against his jaw briefly before she leaned back and braced herself with one hand on his chest. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and the light from the small fire in the hearth played over Torunn’s breasts as she stretched. The scarring over her ribs was healing, but it was still painful to look at, she had not complained of any stiffness in her shoulder, but he could see it in her sparring practice, and he knew that it frustrated her. As he looked at her, a smile curved across her lips and she ran her other hand down her body and caressed her breasts with agonizing strokes before sliding it between them. The band of her hand pressed against his cock and he moaned aloud as he realized what she was doing. The rhythmic motion of her fingers as she pleasured herself only inflamed his own lust.

It was purposeful, painfully so, and he watched, frozen with longing as her lips parted and her breath came in small gasps. Her hips moved in time with her fingers as she brought herself toward a quick and powerful release and he tried to stay still as his cock throbbed and ached to be inside her. He closed his eyes for just a moment to try and steel himself as the ache in his cock grew. All at once, Torunn gasped and his eyes flew open to look up at her. Her breasts pushed forward and her fingers gripped his chest hard as her head fell back and a low moan escaped her lips. He barely contained another groan as her body shuddered and she gasped for breath. Gasps became a soft laugh and Torunn drew her hand from between her thighs and then surprised him as she leaned forward and pushed her fingers into his mouth. “A taste of Valhalla,” she whispered. “That was what you were looking for, was it not?” Gods, this woman would be the end of him. And she tasted like nothing he had ever imagined.

Sweet and musky, like honey and flax, he groaned and sucked hard on her fingers, taking every drop of what she offered him. He would have happily done whatever she commanded to bury his face between her thighs and taste it for himself… and she knew it. She chuckled softly, pulled her fingers from his mouth, and let out a contented sigh as she sat up and wiggled her hips teasingly. He bit down hard on his lip to keep from I groaning as she rubbed against his cock. There was no possible way that she could ignore what she was doing to him, but her smile confirmed that she knew precisely what she was doing. With a quick motion and a flash of long legs, Torunn crawled back up onto her bed and pulled the blankets and furs up around herself. She let out a long breath and Bersi’s hands curled into fists as he lay there in the dark. His cock throbbed and his stomach twisted in knots. “Get some sleep, rebel. I will have more work for you in the morning,” Torunn said sleepily.

Bersi let out a breath and tried to calm his thundering pulse. Torunn Arndottir was an infuriating woman, and he wanted to possess her more than he had ever wanted anything in his entire life. He also knew that if he made so much as a wrong move without her permission, that she wouldn’t hesitate to cut his throat. That fact only made him want her more. t was difficult enough for him to bear the shame of his enslavement. He could ignore the stares and the whispers—and even the taunts that he was meant to hear did not bother him as much as the internal turmoil that kept him awake at night and put extra force into his swing as he chopped endless lengths of firewood to heat his mistress’ new home. Against her brothers’ suggestion, Torunn had chosen a small house at the edge of the village instead of having one built that suited her status. The new Jarl sneered at it and said that it was an insult to have his sister living in such a hovel, but Bersi knew that Torunn couldn’t bear to spend any more time under the same roof as her brothers. He could not blame her for her choice. Bersi did his work as he was commanded, but, as always, he found a way to have a care for Torunn’s whereabouts.

His suspicions had not died away, and even though she had rejected Varin’s words, he wondered if they had awakened any doubts in her own mind. If they had, she gave no sign of it. She feasted with her brothers, sparred with them, and seemed to ease into her role as sister to the Jarl without complaint. It was a hard thing to watch her step back from the leadership she had been given when her father departed Skaro’s shores, and he could not stop himself from thinking about how she might have felt about the sudden change in her fortunes. And the marriage that loomed on the horizon. B With every passing day, the threat of the ice breaking up and allowing ships to enter Skaro’s protected waterways became more pressing. Who his mistress married should not have weighed on his mind… but it did. Heavily. ersi had always considered himself an observant man—and though it had not always served him well, it had always given him a small amount of insight into the workings of the village. Skaro, like any village in winter, eagerly awaited the approach of spring.

The Jarl’s return and the feasts that had been held in his honor had struck a hard blow to the village supplies and though the people were lean and hungry, the Jarl seemed to eat as well as ever. In his days as a rebel, wandering village to village to gather support for his cause, he had never walked unnoticed. He was a big man, with a confident gait, and he never shied away from meeting the eye of every man and woman he passed. But now—now he was a slave. A defeated enemy with a limp who could move almost unseen through the crowded streets of Skaro. He was not used to being ignored and treated as lesser, especially by men such as Jarl Hallvard. He kept his distance from Torunn’s brothers; though he was only a slave, it did not change the fact that her brothers would gladly see him killed for any reason. Varin seemed ill at ease under Skaro’s new leadership, and every time Bersi spoke to him, it seemed that he was even closer to rebellion that he had been the week before. On one particular morning, Bersi was surprised to see him leaning against a building not far from Torunn’s house. “Have you been waiting for me?” Bersi said as he approached.

Varin nodded briefly. “Since before dawn.” Bersi shoved a bucket at him. “Then be of some use and help me fetch water.” Varin threw the bucket back and chuckled darkly. “You have chosen your path, my friend.” “I chose nothing,” Bersi snapped. “Now, tell me what you want or get out of my way.” Varin fell into step beside him as he marched through Skaro’s streets toward the well. They walked in silence, but Bersi could feel the tension in his friend’s gait and the set of his jaw was dangerous.

He had been thinking too much, that was certain. “What good are these fools,” Varin snarled as they approached the center of the village. “Can they not see that their people are hungry? I have taken men out into the woods myself to seek game, but there is none to be had. Trade with Laxa has dwindled to almost nothing… They have plans they are not sharing with the rest of the council.” “You are more suspicious than I am,” Bersi replied quietly, but the thought had been on his own mind as well. “Do you have work to do in the great hall?” Varin asked. Bersi shook his head. “Firewood. Always more firewood.” “She keeps you at arm’s length for a reason, my friend,” Varin chuckled.

“She has always been a cold one, even as a child.” “Shut your mouth,” Bersi growled. Varin chuckled and then tilted his head toward the hall. “Find your way there today and then tell me what you see.” Bersi spat on the dirty snow at his feet. “I see an old fool.” “That may be,” Varin shrugged. “But this old fool is not blind yet.” Bersi grunted and turned toward the well. He had already been waylaid from his chores for long enough.

The kitchen would be wanting firewood before long. Torunn slept late, but she expected her meal and mead to be waiting when she did rise. Still… Varin’s words had been filled with a different sort of venom, and that made Bersi curious. Curiosity was never a good thing. Especially for a slave. Bersi filled his water buckets and glanced at the great hall. It was still early, but the hall would be filled with snoring warriors sleeping off the mead they had drunk the night before. It should not have been this way. The warriors should have returned to their lives and taken on the responsibilities that had been given to others in their absence. But the Jarl did not seem to see any hurry to return to normal village life.

The men fought, trained, made weapons, and drank, as though they expected to be called away on a raid at any moment. Varin was right to be suspicious. These men were not ready to step back into their lives—they were ready for battle. Jarl Sigurd was due to arrive in Skaro as soon as the ice broke from the waterways, but Jarl Hallvard did not seem to be preparing for a wedding, or any kind of alliance. He set the buckets down beside the well and made his way carefully through the villagers in the streets toward the great hall. He stopped along the way to speak to other slaves and servants, and traded some small coins for a small packet of sweet spices that he knew Torunn liked to add to her mead.

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