Jorund rose at dawn, still angry with himself for letting his guard down. He had known Kirsten had no interest in a man like him—she had said so from the beginning. And her confession, that she wanted a strong fighter and a protector, was only a reminder of his own failure.
He would change who he was; of that he had no doubt. It took only time and training. Each day, he practiced fighting until his muscles burned. He ate as the other warriors did, strengthening himself with food and ale.
When he arrived at the training grounds, he chose his weapon and began going through the exercises while he awaited Alarr. Two of Alarr's half brothers, twins Rurik and Danr, arrived to spar with him. He liked the men, for they were both strong fighters with a quiet confidence in their abilities. Neither felt the need to boast, though Jorund had to work hard to strike back against their blows.
Alarr arrived at last, and Danr teased him. "Were you spending too much time with your bride last night, brother?" It was a jest, for they all knew Alarr wasn't allowed to see Gilla yet.
"Too much time with ale, more like," Rurik countered. He sent an easy smile. "We've been keeping Jorund busy."
A moment later, Kirsten approached the training grounds. She had tied her skirts in such a way to make movement easier. When she saw Alarr with his half brothers, she held back.
"Have you brought water for us?" Danr asked with an easy smile. He eyed her, as if he were more than interested. And something flared within Jorund with the need to shield her.
"She came to train with us," he told them. "And you're going to leave her alone."
Danr's smile deepened. "Am I? Have you claimed her, then?"
Jorund raised his weapon, needing to fight the man. Whether it was an urge to prove his skills to Kirsten or the need to defend her honor didn't matter. He struck hard, and Danr deflected the blow. Alarr stood back to watch, and he offered corrections.
"Keep your weapon up. Watch Danr's feet. You'll know his movements."
Jorund paid strict attention, but he didn't miss Kirsten staring. Her expression appeared troubled, as if she didn't like to see them fighting over her.
He used his strength to defend himself, never taking his eyes off his opponent. Danr continued to circle him, and he kept changing tempo, first moving with speed and then slowing down, in an effort to catch Jorund unawares.
But he had learned his lessons well from Alarr.
"I think there should be a wager," Danr interrupted. "If Kirsten is willing." He backed off the fight, keeping his weapon and shield ready.
"Willing for what?" she asked.
"Willing to offer a favor to the winner of this fight."
"Leave her out of this," Jorund said. "She came to train on her own. Not to become a prize to be won."
"You like her," Danr predicted. "And if she offered a kiss to the winner, would that make you fight harder?" He lunged suddenly, and Jorund blocked the weapon. "Or would you fight to stop me from claiming that kiss?"
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