The Viking’s Consort – Quinn Loftis

I didn’t want to remember Dayna laying lifeless on the forest floor. I wanted to remember her as the vivacious, feisty young woman who has constantly driven me crazy from the moment she came screaming into the world. Her entire life, Dayna had never stopped driving me crazy…until Gisele hit her with a blast of power that dropped my baby sister to the ground, leaving her silent and motionless. I chose not to remember that. Instead, I remember Dayna with fire in her eyes and her lips stretched tight with defiance. I remember her this way because when I see her again—and I would see her again—it would be the face she’d be wearing. And I cannot wait to see it. “You’re driving your husband crazy,” Brant said as he sat beside me on a boulder. I’d found the spot a week ago. It was perched on a ledge that overlooked the ocean, and it had become a retreat of sorts, a place where I could think, pray, and believe, however weakly, that everything was going to be okay. I’d been making the trek every day the past seven days, seeking solace in the waves of the sea. “I know,” I said. “I can feel him.” I hated to make Torben feel helpless and worried, but my spirit was restless. The only time I felt any semblance of peace was when I was training with the other shieldmaidens.

I had a feeling this relief came because the struggle and rigor of the drills gave me an outlet for the pain and anger that always seemed to simmer just beneath the surface of my emotions. There was nothing more distracting than feeling my arm vibrating to the marrow from the impact of axe on shield as Freya put me through my paces. On top of the anxiety caused by my sister’s unknown fate, Hilda’s prophecies weighed on my mind. They came, went, and usually didn’t make any sense to me at all. I kept trying to sort through them, but there were no points of reference. One timeline bled into another. And being exhausted probably didn’t help my mental acuity. “I’m just a bundle of laughs,” I said, mostly to myself. “No one expects you to be skipping through the village, Allete,” Brant said. “You’re handling everything with the grace of a queen.

” “What about you?” I asked, hoping to direct attention away from my pity party. “I expected you’d be on a killing spree by now.” He shrugged his huge shoulders, ripped a long weed from the ground, and began wrapping it around his finger. “I’d like to. There’s nothing I’d love more than to sail straight to Calder’s clan and separate his head from his body. But I can’t just ignore Torben’s orders. I respect him, not only as my jarl, but also as my best friend as well. He’s a smart and capable warrior. I will follow his leadership no matter how badly I want Dayna back.” I bit my bottom lip, forcing back tears that threatened to fall.

“We have to rescue my sister. I know I’ve said it a million times, but I feel like if I don’t keep saying it, then it won’t happen.” “Nothing short of death will keep me from going for her. And Torben feels the same way. He would do anything for you,” Brant assured me. Turning, I met his eyes. “Thank you, Brant. You are a good friend and a male of worth. I am glad you and Dayna found each other.” He gave me a sharp nod before standing.

I redirected my gaze to the ocean. “Don’t stay out here too long. Freyr, the fertility god, sends wintry weather our way. I can feel it on the wind. You will be little help to Dayna if you freeze to death.” I snorted. “Good pep talk, Brant. Watch yourself, or I’ll sick Babs on you.” “Say no more.” With a grunt, he shuffled off.

When he was gone and I was once again alone, I closed my eyes and concentrated on the memories that were a constant shadow. Hilda had unleashed a storm into my mind. The visions would be a welcomed distraction if they didn’t make my head feel as if it were going to split open like a dropped melon. “Couldn’t you have organized this a little better, old woman?” I asked the frosty night air. I halfway expected the oracle to answer. If anyone could reach beyond the grave, it would be Hilda. I tried to make sense of the foremost vision assaulting my brain—of Torben and his clan. But I couldn’t tell if it was something from the past or future. I didn’t feel a pressing urgency associated with this vision. Instead, I felt a rightness I couldn’t explain.

Maybe that meant Hilda’s prophesy of peace and unity for Clan Hakon would indeed come to fruition. “Are you going to make me go to bed alone?” His smooth voice washed over me, and I opened my eyes to see my husband approach. “Surely you haven’t already gotten so used to sleeping with me that you are incapable of falling into slumber alone?” Torben sat beside me as his brow rose. “Maybe I have. Does this mean you would fall so easily asleep without me by your side?” “You’ve got me there. I would hate to sleep without you.” “It isn’t a matter of growing accustomed to having you next to me,” Torben said. “It’s more the realization that I have been missing something all my life. I didn’t even know I wasn’t whole until I met you, Allete. Now that I’ve come to that realization, not being close to you makes it seem as if a part of me is gone.

” “All right, I concede,” I said with a smile. Regardless of the circumstances, Torben could always make me smile. How could he not? He loved me in a way I’d never known was possible. “Are you all right?” Torben asked, but then raised his hands. “Silly question, I know. Perhaps I should say, what can I do for you? How can I help you, my love?” I stared up at him. Despite the fact he sat next to me, I still had to look up to see his eyes. “You’re doing it,” I replied. “You…just being here for me is all I need. Your willingness to hold, talk to, or just listen to me is more than enough.

” “It doesn’t seem like enough. I feel like I need to do more. I wish I could just roar and force the universe to do what I want it to. I want you to be okay, Allete. More than okay, I need you to be happy. My spirit won’t be settled until you are.” I stood, then climbed into his lap. The anguish I could see in his face was practically suffocating. I hated the helplessness I saw in his eyes, but I completely understood it. I felt the same way, not just for Dayna, but for our entire clan.

Our clan. It still didn’t sound right to me. There was no way I was capable of leading Clan Hakon, much less the clan’s oracle. I shook away the thought and the anxiety that threatened to come with it. “I’m sorry,” I said, wrapping my arms around Torben’s neck. He enclosed me in his strong arms, pulling me tightly against him. There was no place in the entire world I would rather be than in his safe embrace. “I’m sorry you feel like you can’t help. I wish you understood you are being everything I need and more.” Torben squeezed me closer, burying his face against my neck.

He gently pressed his lips to my skin, and I shuddered. “You smell amazing,” he murmured. His breath was warm compared to the cold November air. One of his large hands slipped under the back of my woolen undershirt to wrap around my waist. His flesh against my own brought a heightened awareness that hadn’t been there only moments ago. “Are you trying to seduce me, Viking?” “Am I breathing?” Torben chuckled. “Because if so, then I am definitely trying to seduce my bride.” Suddenly, he stood, lifting me as if I weighed no more than a feather. He started walking, carrying me in the direction of our hut. Smoke billowed out of the chimney, and I found myself anticipating the warmth that would envelop us when we entered.

“Pray tell, what are you doing?” I asked in my most regal voice. “I’m taking my woman to bed,” he replied with gravel in his voice. “I am tired. It’s exceedingly kind of you to carry me.” “I’m sorry to disappoint you, my love, but I’m not taking you to our bed to rest.” “Oh, why else would you take me to our bed?” He pushed the door open, carried me through the threshold, and kicked the door closed behind us. Then he walked across the room where the bed was pressed against the wall. Recently, Torben had spent an entire day building a mattress he felt was ‘worthy of my body’. At least those were the words he’d used when I’d asked what he was doing. He set me on my feet, then immediately began unbuttoning my jerkin.

His rough hands and thick fingers moved with a fluid grace I wouldn’t have thought possible. His eyes never left mine as he slowly undressed me. “I take you to our bed to remind you of how precious you are to me. To remind you of just how needed you are, how wanted you are. I take you to our bed because I have great need of you,” he said. His husky voice was seductive, but I could also hear the sincerity of his words. My shirt slipped from my shoulders. It fell silently to the floor, forgotten, as Torben’s fingers traced my flesh. They ran across my shoulders and collarbone, the tops of my breasts, then down my arms. “You are exquisite,” he whispered.

I helped him remove his clothes, then followed his urging as he pressed me into the bed, covering me with his larger frame. The muscles in his shoulders and arms flexed as he held himself over me. Torben leaned down, pressed his full lips to my forehead, and then to each eyelid. Then he moved to my cheeks, and, at last, my lips. The kiss started soft, but it quickly escalated as our naked bodies pushed closer together. “I love you, Princess,” Torben rumbled as our bodies joined. He made love to me as if it were the first and last time, touching my body tenderly as though I were the most priceless gift he’d ever received. When I would attempt to speed things up, he held back and admonished me to be patient. “Patience is not my strong suit.” I panted against his chest.

“Haven’t you ever heard the saying ‘good things come to those who wait’?” he asked, skimming his hands down my sides. “No, but I have heard the saying ‘if you don’t give me what I want now, I will make you bleed’,” I growled. He stopped moving, frowning down at me. “Where’d you hear that?” “Here, just now, when it came out of my mouth. Now move, damn it.” Torben chuckled. “You’re right sexy when you get all demanding…like a horny kitty.” “I’m going to ignore that statement and refocus on how tenderly you were just touching me.” “You mean like this?” he asked as he ran his lips down my neck, his tongue retracing the same pattern. “Yes,” I breathed, trembling.

“Just like that.” I have no idea how long my husband tortured me, just that it was the best kind of torment. He managed to make me forget all of my stress and worries until I was finally too exhausted to stay awake. “Sleep, Princess,” he murmured against my ear. “I will wake you before the sun rises to ensure you are good and relaxed for the entire day.” Muttering something unintelligible, I slipped into the waiting oblivion brought on from the best kind of loving a husband could give his wife. “I THERE İS A SAYİNG— “IF YOU CANNOT BEAT THEM, THEN JOİN THEM”. UNFORTUNATELY, İN ORDER TO JOİN THEM, YOU HAVE TO ACTUALLY BE ABLE TO DO WHAT THEY DO.” ~DİARY OF ALLETE AUVRAY ’ve seen a toothless, starving hag fight harder to chew a piece of stale bread than you’ve been fighting all morning,” Freya yelled down at me where I sat. She’d put me on my backside at least two dozen times in the past hour as we sparred.

I could tell the other shieldmaidens, though dutifully continuing their own training drills, watched me out of the corners of their eyes. I snapped, “If the hag is starving, then, of course, she’s going to fight hard to chew a piece of stale bread. It’s called survival instinct.” “Survival instinct? Is that the problem?” Freya asked. “You don’t feel your survival is being threatened enough to fight? I can easily remedy that.” Throwing down the wooden training sword she’d been holding, she pivoted toward Babs. “Bring me two swords.” “Freya,” Torben’s deep voice called, sending a clear warning from where he stood twenty paces away. The shieldmaiden leader faced him, then narrowed her eyes. “You put me in charge of the female fighters.

Told me to train them to be as deadly as the males. You told me you wouldn’t interfere. Right now, she,” Freya pointed to me, “is not your bride or my queen, she is a warrior, a shieldmaiden of Clan Hakon. The girl will learn to fight correctly, or she will be killed in battle. If it takes a true threat to get her to pull her pretty princess head out of her ass, then so be it.” Torben pursed his lips, but he didn’t respond. Babs was back by the end of Freya’s speech. The woman grinned at me like a feral wolf just let loose in a pen of sheep. I wished I could say the sight didn’t unsettle me. After handing Freya a sword, she walked over to me.

She held out her hand, pulled me off the ground, then took my practice sword and replaced it with the real one. Fantastic. “Most fighters have a tell,” Babs whispered. “Something that gives away their next move. Find Freya’s tell and you will find a chink in her armor. I’m not saying it will allow you to defeat her, but it will give you a better chance of walking away from this unscathed.” “You mean I’ll just get my rear end handed to me instead of actually getting killed?” “Exactly. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what really matters? That your rear end, which has been thoroughly kicked, is handed back to you?” Cackling her usual disturbing laugh, Babs stepped away from the sparring circle. “Thanks a lot,” I yelled at her retreating back. I could feel Torben’s irritation and worry through our bond, but I pushed it out of my mind.

Freya, no matter how much I loathed to admit it, was right. I had to be able to fight, even when my emotions were a mess. If I couldn’t focus in a controlled setting, how on earth would I focus in the heat of battle? Stretching my shoulders, I bobbed my head from side to side to help loosen the tightened muscles. Then I bounced on my feet a few times, still adjusting to the unfamiliar footwear they’d given me. They were leather boots that came all the way up my calf to just below my knee. The leather was thick, and Freya had said it helped prevent injury to the ankles and lower legs. It still felt weird not to be wearing a dress. It wasn’t that I’d never worn pants before, but it was rarely and usually only when I went on long rides. The leather pants fit close against my skin. They allowed easy movement without being cumbersome.

The jerkin I had on came to mid-thigh. Over that, I wore a thick leather vest with several straps and pockets, mostly for holding daggers. On my forearms, I wore leather cuffs with silver rivets running up them. In a real fight, Freya said I would also wear light chainmail under the leather vest for added protection. Moving without awkwardness in the new clothing took some practice. Moving quickly and efficiently in the contorted ways often required for battle, well, that was next to impossible. But I’d better make it possible in a hurry. Otherwise, I was in for a lot of pain…or worse. The short sword Babs had given me was familiar. Torben and I had trained with it for hours.

In the evenings, he would teach me the correct way to wield it outside our hut. Though it exhausted my sword arm after only a few minutes, I’d known I was growing stronger and more capable. Holding a sword was one thing, but actually swinging it around and hitting things with it took an amount of strength I didn’t yet fully possess. Just as I lifted the sword, Freya roared and lunged at me. I got my blade up just in time to meet hers as it stopped inches from my face with a loud ringing and reverberation I felt all the way to my shoulder. I pushed back as hard as I could, throwing Freya away from me. She took a couple of steps back, then began circling. My feet moved in tandem with hers as I tried to watch for the infamous tell Babs spoke about. I felt the chances of finding it were about as high as Torben learning to do needlepoint. “FREYA,” Torben rumbled.

“You aren’t doing her any favors, Jarl,” the shieldmaiden leader snapped even as she continued to circle me. “Torben, I have to learn,” I called without taking my eyes from the warrior across from me. “I doubt a real enemy would back up and let me catch my breath…or wait until I get the grip on my sword just right.” “I understand that better than you know, Princess. But that doesn’t mean Freya has to put any slashes on you. You can learn without being put in real danger.” Freya lunged forward at the same time she yelled, “Wrong!” I was so caught off guard I had to backpedal quickly to avoid the jab of her sword. As soon as I had my footing and she stopped her forward attack, I hoped to catch Freya unaware. I stepped toward her while slashing with my sword. Surprisingly, the maneuver almost worked.

Frey blocked my stroke only just before it hit her shoulder. Freya smiled. “That’s more like it.” “Damn it all,” Torben muttered. “By the gods, woman, you will be the death of me.” I didn’t so much as glance his way as I responded. “Only if you annoy me too much. I rather enjoy the marriage bed activities, and it would take a lot for me to give that up.” I hoped my words would shock Freya and possibly distract her. They did.

Eyes widening, Freya inadvertently lowered her sword. Only a slight movement, but it was enough. I rotated left, turning my body in a complete circle while shuffling closer to her. In an instant, the point of my sword rested at her neck. “I’m not sure what has made me prouder…” Freya said. Smiling, she knocked my sword aside as if it were an annoying fly. “The fact you finally bested me, that you used a dirty trick to do it, or that you joked about your marriage bed activities in front of your husband and our jarl.” “It’s okay to be proud of me for all three. It’s a big moment.” When I glanced over at Torben, I found him gazing at me as if I’d grown a second pair of breasts, equal parts awe and lust.

“I am in awe of you, Princess, and I am most definitely in lust for you, second pair of breasts or not,” he said through the mental connection our anchor bond gave us. “That’s a good thing, Northman, because a second pair of breasts will never happen.” “Never say never, my love. Not when magic exists in the world. Miracles do happen.” My eyes widened as I stared at him. “Miracles?” I sputtered “Umm, even if magic could make that happen, I would never concede to it. Maybe you should have a pair attached to your chest, then try swinging a sword or running in a tight jerkin. They quickly go from asset to liability.” “I, along with the entirety of the male population on every continent in the world, would disagree with you…most ardently.

” He flashed me a wicked grin. “I’ve missed something, and I feel, perhaps, I shouldn’t be present for this conversation,” Freya said idly. “Yet, I also feel the need to stay. I’m sure it’s bound to become even more hilarious.” “We should stay,” Babs said. “In case the princess decides to attack her mate with that long arse sword she’s wielding.” “Is training over for the day?” Torben asked, his eyes never leaving mine. “Afraid not.” Freya sighed, though I knew she wasn’t a bit remorseful. The sadist loved torturing me.

“We still have endurance to work on. Some hill sprints should do the trick.” Groaning, I threw my head back. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one. A collective moan came from the surrounding shieldmaidens. “Quit your whining, you lazy milk jugs,” Freya yelled. “You won’t be upset about the hill runs when you’re able to stay upright after hours of battle. As females, we are naturally weaker than most men. That means, when we fight them, we must find other advantages. We need to be able to outlast them.

Fatigue makes a coward of the strongest man. That is when they show their weakness.” “She’s right,” Torben agreed. “Endurance is one of the things that makes shieldmaidens so dangerous. It’s as important, if not more so, than wielding a heavy weapon.” No one seemed particularly heartened by their words. With much muttering, we shuffled over to a storage barrel and unceremoniously dumped our weapons into it. Then we marched, panting, with heads bowed, to the hill, a steep mound of earth that rested ominously about a kilometer away. I’d dubbed it the Devil’s Anvil because it never yielded, and it made my life hell. The other shieldmaidens seemed to appreciate the moniker.

This hill had become the bane of my existence. I even had nightmares about it. “Wait,” Freya hollered. “Don’t forget your shields. Wear them on your backs as you run.” “She’s trying to kill us.” Astrid huffed. “We’ve been trying to tell you that for years,” Taina, one of the twins, said. “I’m sorry I doubted you,” Astrid said. She smiled at the twins, who I noted were rarely far apart from one another.

Didn’t Torben tell me Talia once had a fling with Brant? Wonder if Taina hung around for that? It was torture, but I knew Freya wasn’t trying to kill us because she never ordered us to do any training she didn’t plan to complete herself. In a few minutes, she’d join us on the hill with her shield and probably her sword as well. And that was why I respected her as a trainer and leader.

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