Kirsten had seen the stranger training with Alarr, but she had never met him up close. Jorund, she'd heard Alarr call him.
As he drank from her water skin, she found herself studying his features. His dark brown hair had threads of gold, as if he'd spent a great deal of time sailing. Had he gone a-viking to distant lands? Though he looked only slightly older than herself, there was a sorrow that weighed upon him. His blue eyes appeared weary, but they were staring at her now with undisguised interest.
She had offered water to quench his thirst, but for a moment, he looked as if he wanted to kiss her. Her heartbeat quickened, and she nearly pulled back the water skin.
"I—I don't think we've met," she said, to fill up the empty space between them.
"Kirsten," Alarr interrupted, "this is Jorund, son of Odell. He traveled to us from the north after his family was killed in a raid."
"I'm sorry for your loss," she whispered. So that explained the shadows in Jorund's eyes and the freshly healed scars on his forearm and side. "I bid you welcome to Maerr."
Again, he could only nod. Was he shy? Or was it simply that he had nothing to say?
"Keep working on the training I showed you," Alarr told him. "I need to go and speak with Gilla's father now."
Kirsten had always liked Alarr, though she knew he was betrothed to Gilla. It was an arranged alliance, and he barely knew the woman. They were friends, that was all. Although Kirsten had no intention of coming between them, if Gilla ever broke the betrothal, she wanted Alarr to know of her interest.
After he'd gone, she turned back. Jorund was moving his sword through a series of motions. She ought to leave, but instead, she stayed for a moment to watch. "May I join you?"
The slight shrug was the only indication that he had heard her. Kirsten took that as an invitation and chose the smallest sword. She set her water skin down on the ground and went to stand beside him.
She watched his movements and tried to imitate him. Left, right, lunge. Her brother, Balder, had taught her to fight years ago, against her father's wishes. Kirsten believed that every woman should know how to fight. It was her secret wish that she could be a warrior alongside the others. Men might believe her to be helpless, until she unsheathed her own weapon and proved them wrong. She lacked their strength, but she knew how to move faster.
Over and over, they practiced in silence, but after a time, he set his weapon down on the rack and returned to her side. "Are you leaving now?" she asked.
"Not yet." They were the first words she'd heard him speak. His voice was deep, resonant like a caress. Jorund reached out to her wrist and corrected her grip. "Hold the weapon like this."
She did as he instructed and slowly went through the motions again. He went to stand behind her, and as she moved the sword, he adjusted her angle. "Again." She obeyed, fully conscious of his presence behind her. "Did someone hurt you once?" he asked, when she moved the sword. "Is that why you fight?"
"He tried to," was her answer.
Jorund's expression turned grim, and he nodded. "Did you kill him?"
She shook her head. "My brother did. But I don't ever want to feel helpless again."
He took the sword from her and hung it up beside his own. "Come back in the morning at dawn. We'll train together."
It was the last thing she'd expected him to say. Men never wanted her to train alongside them. Most times, they treated her as if she were useless, good only for fetching water or cooking. But she found herself smiling at Jorund. "I will be there."
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