Jorund could see Kirsten's nerves. Her hands were trembling as she struggled to build a fire in the hearth. "Let me," he said, taking the tinder from her. He struck a spark from the flint and kindled the flame until the space grew warmer.
"Did he bother you at all?" he asked.
"He kept following me," she said. "Once he caught sight of me, he found reasons to be nearby. And just before I saw you again, he wanted me to come with him. I refused."
"Good." He fed blocks of wood to the fire, and the smoke rose high through the rafters to escape.
Kirsten was pacing across the small space, and she said, "I thought I could defend myself. But he was so much stronger—I knew that if he was with me for even a moment, he might try to harm me."
She drew her arms around her waist, as if to shield herself. And though it was likely a mistake, Jorund asked, "Do you want me to stay with you tonight?"
She nodded without hesitation. "If you don't mind. You can sleep on my brother's pallet." She tucked a fallen strand of hair behind one ear, and he realized how deeply this warrior had bothered her.
It had happened before. He remembered her mentioning that her brother had killed the man. And this was why she wanted to learn how to fight.
"I will stay," he said. "As long as you know that I would never bother you."
Kirsten let out a sigh. "I am grateful, Jorund. And yes, I trust that you would not hurt me."
He was glad that she had faith in him, but the closed space created an intimacy between them. It made him imagine what it would be like to live with a woman like Kirsten, to lie beside her at night. The thought was entirely too welcome.
He needed a means of distraction and asked, "Did you ever train today?"
She shook her head. "There was no time. And after the guests arrived…" Her voice trailed off, revealing her disappointment.
"Do you want me to teach you a few ways of defending yourself?" he offered.
She brightened at that. "I wouldn't mind it."
He removed his sword and blade. "No weapons this time. I'll show you how to escape if a man ever tries to hold you down."
She nodded and removed the dagger from her belt, setting it beside his. Then he was startled when she lifted the edge of her skirt and untied a hidden blade from her thigh. Though he hadn't intended to look, he caught a glimpse of her slim, muscled leg.
And Jorund suddenly realized that spending the night with her might be more complicated than he'd imagined.
"Show me," she said.
He reached out for her hand, and she took it. Her fingers were cool, and he said, "First, you should know a man's weaknesses." He turned her hand and touched her forearm. Then he brought it to his throat. "If you strike here, your opponent cannot breathe. Use your arm and move your weight forward." He showed her how to step and strike against an enemy's throat. "Once you have struck as hard as you can, run. He won't be able to come after you, for he will need time to catch his breath." He showed her how and made her practice, though she did not use her full strength.
"And what if I miss? What if he still tries to grab me?"
"Use your elbow," he said. "Strike here, in the center of the chest. It can also steal a man's breath and force him to stumble backward."
Again, she practiced, and he corrected her stance. The room had grown warmer from the fire, and even though she had done nothing except try out the moves against him, he felt his own tension rising. Whether she knew it or not, he desired Kirsten fiercely.
Being here was its own torment, and he stared at her in the firelight, wanting what he could not have.
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