The kingdom of Maerr, AD 874
"You'll die if you don't fight harder."
Jorund Odellsson lifted his sword. His arm was burning, and sweat slid down his bearded cheeks. He had been fighting for hours, but his opponent would never yield. Alarr was right. He would die if he didn't learn to be a stronger fighter. Jorund started to lower his sword, but the warrior struck with more force, the blow ringing against the metal.
"Don't back down," Alarr warned. "I didn't agree to train you only to have you turn weak on me now. If you want to be a better warrior, you have to be stronger." With his sword pressed against Jorund's, he reached out with his other hand and touched his shoulder. "Not here." He tapped Jorund's forehead. "Here. Your mind will give your body strength it doesn't know it has. It will give you purpose."
Jorund raised his weapon again, pushing back against the pain. Alarr circled him, his voice falling low. "Remember what they did to your sister and your family. Let that memory give you strength."
Alarr was right. This was why he had journeyed here, to train with the strongest warrior in Maerr. Jorund craved vengeance for their deaths. He was alone now, and he had traveled from the north, seeking the knowledge he needed. There were constant raids and unrest, and he intended to hunt down his enemies and make them pay for what they'd done.
Again, he struck his sword against Alarr's, though he could feel the tremor in his muscles. He hadn't been strong enough to save his loved ones. But he would train with the warriors of Maerr until he was breathless, until he found the strength he needed.
There came a slight shift in the air, and Jorund couldn't quite define the disturbance. He circled Alarr, his gaze shifting until he saw what it was. Or who it was.
Kirsten Arensdottir. The greatest distraction he could have imagined. Her golden-white hair was pulled back in a knotted braid, carelessly wild as if she'd just dismounted from a horse. A smile warmed her brown eyes when she approached.
"Would you like water?" she asked, holding out a deerskin. "You look thirsty."
But she wasn't speaking to him. No, her attention was on Alarr Sigurdsson, their king'ssecond-born son. Though everyone knew he was meant to marry Gilla Vigmarrsdottir, Kirsten seemed to hold on to her hope.
Yet Alarr had no problem deflecting Kirsten's interest elsewhere. "I'm certain Jorund is very thirsty, aren't you?" He gave a pointed look toward him.
Actually, he was, but he didn't want to interfere. He had enough to practice right now, and he could take himself elsewhere. But Kirsten surprised him when she offered the deerskin. "Would you like some?" Her voice was friendly as she smiled.
Jorund nodded and reached out to take it. Her fingers brushed against his, and the slight touch flared between them. For a moment, she studied him, and he never took his eyes from her as he drank. Kirsten wasn't the quiet sort of beauty—she had a reckless, fiery nature, as if she would fight for those she loved. He had never met anyone like her before, and he could not deny that he wanted to know her better.
Even if her interest lay with Alarr Sigurdsson.
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