Kirsten watched as Jorund followed Brandt and Rurik to the horses. He hadn't even said goodbye. She felt uneasy about his departure, especially after the morning she had spent in his arms. It had been a decision made on instinct, born of her desire to feel beloved by someone.
And yet, he had gone to seek his vengeance. Though he had other strong fighters with him, the bleak loneliness slid over her with the knowledge that he might not come back.
She joined with the others while the wise woman was preparing the ritual sacrifice to the gods. The volva began chanting in the old language, supplications for blessings. The scent of smoke and blood mingled together when the slain boar was sacrificed to Freyr. The volva took a fir branch and dipped it into the blood. She then made the sign of the hammer, blessing them with the sacrificial blood, as well as the other wedding guests.
The sight of the blood unnerved Kirsten. She could not help but feel that it was an omen. The harvest moon last night, the men leaving to fight in a raid…and all the strangers gathered for the wedding. Though she knew it was part of the wedding ritual, it felt wrong.
Jorund had left with several other men, but the warriors who stayed behind did not look as if they had come for a celebration. One of the Irishmen, in particular, caught her eye. He was staring at Sigurd with undisguised hatred, and she made a silent signal to the gods to ward off evil.
Though she tried to turn her attention back to the exchange of swords and then the ring, suddenly, she saw the Irishman cast off his cloak to reveal a sword. His men did the same, and their intentions were clear.
Sigurd's face turned furious, and he started to reach for the ceremonial sword. Alarr handed the weapon to his father and commanded, "Take Gilla to the longhouse and guard her. Vigmarr and I will settle this."
The king heeded his instructions and took Gilla with him, along with a few other men. Fighting broke out, and Kirsten was caught up in the chaos. Hilda was screaming as she fled toward another longhouse in the opposite direction. Women were running together, trying to avoid the fighting, while their own kinsmen were helpless without weapons.
It was a slaughter waiting to happen. She tried to move away from the others, but the crowd swept her away with them. Kirsten tripped over the body of a fallen warrior and seized the blade embedded in his heart. There was no time to think—she could only react.
Alarr was fighting the Irishman in the distance while Sigurd was gathering the women together. Though she understood their purpose, to guard them, it made her uneasy. Several of the invaders were charging toward them with more weapons drawn.
We're going to die. The words were a certainty, and her hands began to tremble. Though she had learned to fight, she was not trained against seasoned men.
And when she saw the tall tribesman approaching, she knew what he wanted from her. He strode with a purposeful gait, as if he believed she was incapable of defending herself.
Kirsten held the bloody knife in her hands, her heart beating with terror.
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