Ostri paused, the tip of Death Giver balancing on the mouth of its scabbard. It was not a Saxon name. He scanned her briefly from head to toe, absorbing all he could about her from sight alone. She wore the simple garb of a thrall, a slave. No adornments hung from her clothes, no valuables to give her status; she had no Seax or belt, no shoes. A frown pressed down on his brow as he suspected she might also be a Danish woman, perhaps sent in as an innocent decoy, to spy. Did they think the Saxons stupid? Did they not consider they had the wisdom to see through their plot? Ostri would as easily kill a woman as a man, if that woman had come as an act of war. As he made a quick examination of the forest, checking for Danes hiding in the undergrowth, he wondered, ‘where has she come from?’
Urtha bid the Gods help her. ‘Odin protect me!’ She bravely lowered her shaking arms, peering through tendrils of her hair to assess her situation. The scowling male above her was enough of a sign that she would indeed be hurled back into servitude. His displeasure was as clear as the still waters of her home in Kortfjorden. Memories, bitter as rancid fruits, returned to haunt her. She had sailed with her brother, Iric, aboard a vessel he had secured to ride to the aid of Cnut, whose wife had sovereignty over Noregr. Iric wanted to slaughter Saxons by their thousands and win a land gift from the King. Urtha wanted to see the bountiful, strange place she had heard so many speak of from their raids.
No sooner had they beached than they were set upon and battle was swift and fierce. In a final bid to save the remainder of his crew, Iric used his sister as a bribe. Horrified to have been sold, not purely because she was a noble, but also as her own brother had sold her, Urtha’s fight left her and she allowed herself to be taken. Grief overcame her and she slid into service to the Saxon Thegn who had claimed her for a hefty price. Three months hence when more of her kind returned, in a vengeful wave of blood and destruction, Urtha seized the moment and had fled; right back into Saxon hands it appeared. Was this a ruse by Loki? Was there some lesson she needed to learn? Had she not been meant to run? She consigned herself to her fate and whatever it might bring.
An outstretched hand, a simple request for assistance, took Ostri off guard. His instinctive manners to a Lady pushed aside his aggressive thoughts and, dropping Death Giver into its scabbard, he took her fragile hand and lifted her to her feet. She dusted her rags, folded back her long hair to reveal smooth skin and looked him in the eye directly, her chin lifted slightly. She is no thrall, he realised. Or if she were, she knew not how to respond in her position!
“Jeg er Urtha av Kortfjorden. Tusen takk.”
The statement was delivered with fervent emotion. Remaining ever wary of the wood nymph, Ostri kept his vision aware of the forest’s every move as he addressed her.
“Ostri, son of Milweard the Elder.”
Ostri awaited the usual response, the query as to why he was not named Milweard the Younger. That had been the title of his older brother who had died in service one hear hence. She did not raise the question and Ostri concluded she had not understood the obscurity. She smiled at him and his frown lifted to a look of surprise. He should interrogate her, but he was on watch. Dawn was about another hour away, which was when his relief would arrive. He needed to be sure she was not a distraction and that Danes were not about to scurry into the camp. If he raised the alarm so as to bring notice to his situation, what would they think? They would laugh that he had cried for help merely to deal with a female! He knew what his friend Grimlac would say. ‘Why did you not shag her to pass the time and chain her to the tree till morning?’ He considered it. She was fairer than anything he had ever seen and could imagine how soft her thighs were. He licked his lips.