Kendra was the first to break their contact. Blushing, she shuffled away to pour what remained of the used water onto her plants, before returning to comb out his hair.
She was gentle and patient as she worked on the knots in his hair and he found himself closing his eyes and relaxing under her soft touch.
‘I tried to buy you from Heimdall…more than once,’ he said, unable to help himself, ‘Did he ever tell you that?’
Kendra paused for a moment before answering quietly. ‘He told me.’
‘I am sorry I could not free you from him sooner.’
‘I did not wish to leave Heimdall. It could have been worse.’
He turned in his seat, confused by her response. ‘I would have cared for you.’
She nodded, but she seemed sad. ‘I know, but perhaps it is for the best you did not. I wouldn’t have been happy in your father’s hall.’
‘Why not?’ he snapped, offended that she would prefer old Heimdall to himself.
She had finished braiding his hair, and now moved to sit on a log in front of him, preparing his face to be shaved by soaping it up. ‘I have spent so long on my own that I forget what it is like to work in a hall. Heimdall never cared about my manners, he had none of his own and did not care about mine as long as the work was done. But I fear I would only cause trouble if I lived in the settlement now.’
‘Why would there be trouble?’
Kendra sighed as if frustrated by him. She had lathered his face and was now gently stroking a blade across his skin, the rasp of it cutting across his beard filling the space between them. Eventually, she said, ‘Your father hates me.’
‘He hates most people.’ Magnus wondered if he dare jump in and tell her the whole truth. He decided to dip his toe in instead. ‘He does not know you like I do. However, that will change with time.’
‘What have I ever done to offend him?’ she asked, cleaning the blade with the square of leather spread across her lap.
No, there was no good dipping his toe in. He would have to jump in with both feet. ‘You rejected me. That was what offended him.’
Her silver eyes widened. ‘I was a thrall owned by another man.’
He tilted his head, searching her face for any sign of deceit. ‘But you never asked for me to buy you. You never even acknowledged that we had lain together, and when I heard you were with child, you rejected my offer to care for you.’
He remembered it vividly. He had not seen her in over a month—had expected her to at least seek him out when she came to the settlement to see Heimdall off on his voyage. But she had pointedly ignored him at the farewell feast and he had drunk himself into a miserable stupor waiting for her.
Then, when they were boarding the ship, he had overheard Heimdall complaining about another new mouth to feed. And that was when he had embarrassed himself and his father, leaping off the ship to run to a thrall and declare that he would protect and cherish them both if she wished it.
I do not wish it. And…you should know…the child is not yours.
Kendra’s gaze softened as she stared at him, and he wondered if she knew the painful memory was haunting him. She stroked the blade down the last soapy area of his cheek, and then tenderly patted his face with a fresh linen. ‘I had to. The child is not yours and I was another man’s property.’
He cupped her face and she leaned forward like a flower bathing in sunlight. He brushed a kiss against her lips. ‘You are free now.’
‘I am,’ she whispered, closing her eyes.
He kissed her with another questioning brush of his lips, and hoped for a moment she might curve into his embrace.
But instead she sighed, deeply and full of sorrow. ‘I must think of the future…for myself and Heimdall’s child. There is no point in repeating past mistakes.’
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