Urtha shone inside with happiness that she had made greeting with the stranger and was so far unharmed. Slowly, she relented and knew she would have to give herself up. A deep sigh left her, gaze falling to the floor as she raised a pair of hands, the insides of her wrists uppermost, and waited to be tied.
Urtha looked up, “I am the enemy, I am Viking.”
Viking! So, she was surrendering as a cousin to the Danes. Ostri knelt swiftly to remove a strip of leather from around his calf and stood with it ready to bind her. He was crossing the leather over repeatedly but paused as he was about to secure it with a knot. In his gut it felt wrong. ‘Why?’ He asked himself. He tugged on the leather to raise her attention. She did not face him.
It was his first time using her name and he released it nervously, unsure of it, still unsure of her. She looked right through him as though with the power of God or some such being of immense spirit. Had he not been holding onto her, he felt he might have stumbled. His mouth went dry. She held him, rooted to the ground by her blue stare.
“Who are you?” he whispered, hoping God or the trees would answer if she did not.
“Urtha Henriksdotter, av Kortfjorden.”
“I know thy name,” he shook his head, “I seek thy rank.”
Rang? Urtha considered his request briefly, unsure why she felt compelled to hurl her response at him so willingly. She checked her thoughts awhile before replying.
She entrusted her life to the enemy before her, having a deep knowing she was able to trust him more than she had her own brother, “Jeg er adelig.”
When Ostri frowned, their language barrier was evident to them both. Thinking fast, for daybreak would soon be upon them, Ostri released the leather ties and drew Death Giver from its scabbard. Urtha recoiled, inhaling sharply. Ostri threw a clenched fist around the front of her robe and held the sword by its hilt.
“Soldier,” he told her, his eyes moving to the polished bone handle encased in a bronze pommel and handguard.
The word resonated with his mysterious companion and she relaxed. He released her robe and replaced Death Giver. Ostri’s impatience however, was growing rapidly as distant birds commenced their reverie. Taking Urtha by the shoulders he squeezed her gently.
Du. Deg? Frantically, Urtha’s mind raced with words, her words. How could she explain? Her eyes darted round the forest, finally settling on some twisted bracken. She smiled at Ostri and nodded. He released her and watched mesmerised as she tore at the thorny bracken, breaking off a curled and twisted branch, weaving it into a circle. As she stood and placed the circlet of wildwood on her head, Ostri stumbled back into his faithful tree trunk. She was a noble!
It would be his making as a warrior for the King if he presented a Viking noble as his prisoner. Whoever she had crossed with may still be raping the countryside and this enemy could be thwarted if Urtha was made to talk. He would become a hero, given men of his own to command and land to sew a future on. He came back from his daydream to her expectant eyes.
“Noble,” he told her in his tongue.
“Adelig,” she nodded enthusiastically, a broad grin illuminating her face, “Ja! Adelig!”
The Ceorl’s thoughts returned to his departure from the family estate, the old boars Milweard the Elder and Hergist; Agnaeth the wasp who would be awaiting his return and expecting betrothal to him. Shaking their dusty images from his mind, Ostri grabbed the dangling leather strip that hung round Urtha’s wrists and tore it free, shoving it through his belt for the time being. Checking they remained the only souls around he took his wood nymph by the wrist and, a hand on his baldric to steady Death Giver, he ran with her to his mount.
Bewildered, Urtha allowed herself to be taken. At his horse he mounted, agile as a cat as he slid softly into the mare’s saddle. Directly, a strong arm was thrust at her, the hand outstretched. A broad smile accompanied the gesture. She took it without query and was hauled onto his lap.
Ostri regarded his quarry, only for a moment as their exit would need to be fast to secure their freedom. Just as he had been unable to stomach the fate offered to him by his father, so he could not bear to turn Urtha over. Nudging his ride gently into a slow trot, Ostri the Ceorl did not look back.