The hall seemed thunderous after so many days in the quiet forest with only the sound of gentle songbirds and Kendra’s sweet voice to keep him company.
Jarl Borg was talking with his father. They were old friends and laughed easily with one another. Hilda sat next to him at the high table, his parents’ plans obvious for all to see. She smiled at him. She was pretty, with hazel eyes and red hair down to her waist. Tall and luscious, the image of a Norse beauty. But he wanted someone completely different—he wanted Kendra.
‘Magnus, I heard you were injured from the last raid. Are you well?’
‘Yes,’ he replied, not interested in their conversation.
She sighed. ‘You do not seem well. You have barely spoken to me all night.’
Magnus swirled the mead in his cup. ‘I am sorry, but I have nothing of value to tell you.’
‘Hmm,’ she said, and then rose from her seat. ‘I think I will go and dance. Join me if you wish, or don’t. I do not care either way…but your father might,’ she finished pointedly, tossing her head towards his family.
Magnus groaned as she left and glanced towards his father, who was scowling at him with disapproval.
His mother came to sit beside him. ‘You do not care for Hilda?’ she asked gently.
‘No,’ he snapped, ‘Not that it matters either way.’
His mother frowned. ‘I think it matters to her.’
Irritation set fire to the anger within him and he slammed down his horn with a thud. ‘Do you want me to marry her? You are as bad as father!’
His mother raised a single brow, quietening his temper with the smallest of movements before saying, ‘Yes, we want the same thing for you. We want you to put aside your desire for a woman who does not want you, and find a woman who does. Hilda may be the one…but if she is not, then you must do something about it. We want you married with an heir either way.’
‘It is not like you to be so callous, Mother,’ he grumbled bad-temperedly.
His mother sighed. ‘We are tired of this nonsense with Kendra. Either marry her or be done with her.’
He frowned. ‘You would have me raise another man’s child?’ Even though he knew the truth, he was curious about what his parents would say about it.
His mother rolled her eyes. ‘If you believe that, you are dumb as well as blind! Kendra’s babe is yours. Heimdall has had several thralls over the years. He has never fathered a child from any of them. You, however, took her to your bed once, and she is suddenly carrying a babe! Unlike you, we are not idiots!’
‘I thought Father hated her.’
‘Your father hates everyone.’ And he couldn’t help but smile at her sigh—he had said the same to Kendra. But then his mother fixed him with a sombre expression. ‘I think at this point he will be grateful to have any heir from you…regardless of where the mother is from, or how much she has humiliated you in the process… That is truly what angers him about the whole thing.’
‘Why have you not said anything before?’
‘Because!’ his mother snapped waspishly, ‘you are a grown man and should be able to sort out your own problems. She is a woman living alone in the woods. Go! Take her captive and make her your wife before it is too late. You are a Viking after all!’
He shook his head. ‘She does not love me, and I will not force her to have me. I will not take what little freedom she has built for herself… I love her too much to make her unhappy.’
‘Ridiculous! How can she not love you?’
Magnus laughed. ‘I appreciate your confidence in my prowess, Mother. But she has told me more than once that she does not. I will not humiliate myself for the hundredth time, or burden her further by asking again.’
His mother sighed, exasperated. ‘Then there is no helping either of you!’
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