The Viking’s Captive – Quinn Loftis

Who’s going to die first, Cathal or Magnus?” Amund asked as Brant and I stepped out of the castle doors. He moved into stride with us, easily matching our pace. “Where are the others?” I asked, ignoring his question. I needed a clear head. It would only distract me to imagine the many ways I wanted to kill both men right now. Decisions needed to be made and actions taken swiftly. “I sent the four of them on to follow Cathal,” he said. “Anyone wounded?” Amund shook his head. “Nothing that won’t heal in a few days.” “How’s your side?” Brant asked. I pressed my hand to the bloodstained hole in the fabric of my tunic, cupping the wound. “It’s sore, but it feels more like it is weeks old rather than minutes.” “Your woman is powerful,” Amund said. My jaw clenched at the reminder my woman was in the hands of a man who would do anything to get what he wanted. She was in danger, and I was unable to protect her.

Thoughts of her capture caused me to quicken my pace, ignoring the twinge in my side. From both the left and right sides of our small running party, Kjell, Rush, Delvin, and Siv came silently sprinting out of the trees, matching our footsteps as they fell into stride with us. Smoke loomed ahead on the horizon and my gut churned, already knowing from where it originated, though I didn’t want to accept the ships were all burned until I saw it with my own eyes. “Perhaps we should borrow some royal horses?” Brant said as we crested the hill and jogged down the path leading to King Albric’s royal fleet… well, what used to be his fleet. There were only five ships, but all of them, like the Viking longships on the beach, were currently ablaze. Magnus had set fire to the remaining Viking ships when he’d escaped with Allete. Cathal, for his part, had ignited the rest of the English fleet after sailing away in his own ship. Apparently, mad men share a similar mindset when it comes to fire, I thought as I stared at the burning mess. “We don’t really have a choice,” I pointed out. “Cathal and Magnus are getting further and further away.

We can’t very well set out on foot.” Normally, riding a galloping horse wouldn’t be my preferred mode of travel while I sported a fresh arrow wound, but since Allete was moving farther and farther away, I would take whatever the gods would hand me. The wound was closed—Allete had managed to knit the skin and tissue as well as stop the bleeding—but my side was extremely tender, and the skin felt weak, as if it could easily tear itself open. I winced as, turning, we began running back in the direction we’d come, straight for the royal stables. As the others caught up with me, I glanced at Rush and Delvin on my right and Siv and Kjell on my left. “What did you see?” I yelled breathlessly. “We followed,” Rush began, “but Cathal left behind several of his men to guard his escape. We were forced to dispatch eight of the Tarans before we reached the beach.” “By the time we got there, it was too late,” Siv added. “Cathal was already speeding out of the bay and the rest of the ships were ablaze.

” “Dammit!” When we entered the large building, two young stable hands came rushing out. I held up my hands to show I wasn’t armed. “We aren’t here to hurt anyone. My men and I need horses, fast. We are going after Princess Allete. I don’t have time to wait for you to get clearance from King Albric.” Before either of the two men could speak, Thomas, Allete’s cousin, stepped inside from a door on the opposite side of the barn. “Ready us eight horses. You can tell King Albric I have authorized it.” “While I appreciate the help,” I said, “I cannot allow you to go with us.

” Thomas smiled, though it wasn’t one filled with humor. “You don’t really have a choice. I will either join you, or I will go on my own. Do you think I will leave my cousin’s fate in the hands of a wild Northman? No offense.” “None taken. What am I to tell Allete if you go and get yourself killed?” I asked. “You will not need to tell her anything. My cousin is well aware that I am a grown man and can make my own decisions. She also knows that no one can stop me save the king himself.” What was I supposed to say to that? Thomas was indeed a grown man and a noble in his own right.

Only King Albric could order him to stay behind. But even so, his addition to the party would no doubt be a hindrance to my efforts to get Allete back as quickly as possible. He wasn’t one of my men. I hadn’t trained with him, and I knew nothing of his fighting prowess, so I would have to do my best to protect him. I knew he was important to Allete, so I would feel responsible should any ill befall him. I couldn’t let her experience the pain of losing a family member she loved so dearly. “Fine,” I finally relented, “but if you get yourself killed, Allete will probably kill me. So, remember that before you attempt any heroics.” “I will indeed try and stay alive simply to keep you from enduring my cousin’s ire,” Thomas said with a sly smile. “Cheeky bastard,” I mumbled under my breath.

Fifteen minutes later, the stable hands brought out eight horses, saddled and ready to ride. I grabbed the one closest to me and mounted it with ease. Though I was most comfortable at sea, I had no trouble handling a horse and usually enjoyed riding when I wasn’t chasing after an evil king or dangerous Viking chieftain who’d kidnapped the woman I loved. I urged the horse forward, immediately bringing it to a gallop, and heard the pounding of hooves behind me as the others followed. Pulling a compass from my pocket, I checked our bearing, considered our route, and knew we had a couple options. We could go North, across England, but that would take longer to get to sea and have us possibly running into English soldiers who weren’t aware we weren’t the enemy. Going East, toward the English Channel, would get us to sea quicker, allowing us to leave the English territory more quickly. From there, we would have to procure a small vessel to get across the short distance to Normandy, then we would head north, toward my homeland. Taking note that the road we were following was heading in the right direction, I pushed the horse even harder. Time felt as though it were moving too fast and too slow at the same time.

It was nerve-racking to know that my enemies’ ships were moving across the water at a much faster pace than I could go on land, yet there was nothing I could do except pray to the sea giant, Aegir, that he would slow the ships down. “Can we ride horseback all the way to your clan?” Thomas asked as he brought his horse up beside me. “Most of the way. Eventually, we will have to cross the North Sea,” I answered, “unless we want to ride several hundred miles out of our way. Would that we could have sailed. It would be much faster, not to mention we wouldn’t have to cross through anyone else’s territory. No one owns the great wide ocean, but plenty of men own land.” Allete’s cousin nodded but said nothing more. I attempted to reach out to Allete through our mental connection, but all I could feel was her exhaustion and anger. I wasn’t surprised not to find fear.

My princess didn’t seem the type to cower in a corner. I’d watched her handle Cathal and knew she could take care of herself, but that didn’t stop me from worrying about her. She was still a beautiful woman surrounded by men who had no qualms about hurting her. My only hope was that Magnus valued her more as an Oracle and healer than he did as a woman. If I found out he’d laid even a single inappropriate finger on her, I would slice him open, pull out his innards, and then force-feed them to him. “You seem a tad miffed,” Brant said. His mount’s legs were slightly longer than my own, and he had no trouble keeping pace with my fast gallop. “I’m just imagining the many ways that I plan to kill our jarl,” I said. “How many times are you planning on killing him?” he asked. “It’s not the number of times, but the thoroughness of my execution.

I will have no mercy, not when he had the gall to take the woman I love. Magnus is going to wish that he’d never been jarl over Clan Hakon by the time I am finished with him.” “I “IF EVER I SAY THAT NOTHİNG COULD POSSİBLY BE WORSE THAN RİDİNG A HORSE AND HAVİNG A SORE RUMP, OR CLEANİNG MY OWN CHAMBER POT, OR MUCKİNG OUT THE STALLS, REMİND ME OF MY TİME ON A NORTHMAN’S LONGBOAT.” ~ DİARY OF ALLETE AUVRAY f you vomit on my lap, I will most likely throw you overboard,” Dayna, my incredibly helpful sister, told me for the fourth or fifth time. “If you hadn’t come running after me like a sodding fool, you wouldn’t have gotten yourself captured. Then you wouldn’t even be on this boat, and you wouldn’t have to worry about me vomiting on you, now, would you?” I asked as I clutched my midsection. My stomach seemed to think it should take its cues from the ocean upon which we sailed. It rolled and flipped just like the waves. “First, if I hadn’t come after you, then that would make me a coward and not much of a sister, so that was never an option. Second, if I hadn’t gotten captured, then you would be all alone with no one to hold your hair while you vomit, now, wouldn’t you?” “Do we have to use the term vomit in every sentence?” Hilda, the Hakon clan Oracle, healer, and Torben’s mother, asked dryly.

“Apparently, we do since you just used it yourself,” Dayna pointed out. Hilda shot me a sly grin. With one eyebrow raised, she asked, “You don’t mind if I just put a small hex on her, do you?” “She is my sister, so I’d rather you didn’t.” “Thank you,” Dayna said a bit smugly. “But if you feel it’s absolutely necessary, I guess I could overlook it,” I added, earning me a pinch from said sister. I had no idea how long it had been since Magnus, Torben’s jarl, had captured us. On one hand, he’d done me a favor. I certainly wasn’t going to have to marry Cathal now. On the other hand, my sister and I were now the prisoners of a man who was slowly losing his mind. I wasn’t sure which was worse, being married to a madman or being stolen by one.

For whatever reason, I seemed to have suddenly become a hot commodity to lunatics. I chuckled to myself. “Pray tell, sister, what is so funny?” Dayna asked. “Madmen want me,” I said as I groaned and shifted my head, which was indeed lying in my sister’s lap, where I very well might have been sick at any second. “Do you think she’s already delirious from being at sea?” Dayna asked Hilda. Hilda snorteda most unladylike sound. “We’ve only been at sea for half a day at most. If she’s already delirious, then we are going to need to shore up her constitution.” I was just about to tell her where she could shove her shoring up when I quickly covered my mouth and sat up. I refused to vomit.

If I did, it would feel like Magnus was winning in some bizarre, silent game between the two of us. Once I was sure I could open my mouth without anything but words coming out of it, I addressed Hilda. “I am feeling more than just my own illness, worry, and fear.” I pressed my hand to my heart and rubbed it as if that could somehow remove the ache. “There’s a pain deep in my breast.” Hilda nodded. “That would be the anchor bond between you and my son. You are feeling his worry and fear as well as your own. And knowing how deeply Torben feels anything, I imagine he is in quite a bit of distress, though he won’t show it on the outside.” She shook her head.

“No, he’s a warrior through and through. On the outside, he will look as though he could slit your throat without a second thought. But on the inside, he is frantic to get to you.” “Is that why you weren’t wailing about the possibility of Torben being dead when Magnus said he was?” Dayna asked. “I would know if he were dead. A part of me would die inside as well.” I looked back to Hilda. “Will he kill Magnus?” I asked. She nodded. “It is his destiny to become jarl of the Hakon clan, as it is your destiny to rule at his side.

For that to happen, the old jarl must die. Magnus will never relinquish power willingly. Our two nations will grow stronger, not only because they embrace one another’s differences, but because they need new blood. Your offspring will be strong.” The boat gave a mighty heave, and Dayna and I both nearly fell off the small bench upon which we were perched. Hilda didn’t appear bothered at all by the motion. She noticed the expression I was giving her and shrugged. “I’ve lived at sea a long time. She and I are well acquainted.” “Forgive me for speaking out of turn,” Dayna said, gripping the seat beneath her as though it might try to toss her into the bottom of the boat, “but your life has been about as fun as a house rat’s on cleaning day if you’ve spent that much time on the ocean.

” “You get used to it,” Hilda said in response. “And being at sea a few times has been the least of my torments.”

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