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"Get the skipniu secure! These tides will rip the moorings right out from under them, else!" Emmett, captain of the skipniu – longships – growled at his men. They complied, eager to get off the ship and onto the green, green isle that beckoned like a mist-woman, lush with promise of plunder. Not obeying Emmett never entered the mind of a single one of the Ostmen, the sailors who had gone a-viking that spring in hopes of finding wealth to bring home to their soil-starved homeland of Nordweg. Emmett the One-Eyed was a terrifying figure. He had lost one sky-bright eye in a battle with an inland settlement who wanted to take over his seaside village and its excellent harbor. The eye was payment to the gods, Emmett said. Odin had clearly chosen him as his own.
Through the cold water that lapped at waterproofed leather boots, the warriors sloshed ashore. They had not brought valuable horses with them; this first raiding foray was as much for exploration as acquisition. Lord Edward, the Jarl – noble leader – of his village, was interested in seeking new wealth and that meant raiding. How else were they going to grow more powerful? Emmett grimaced and adjusted the sword in his hand, reassuring himself of its grip. He'd been gifted with it by Lord Edward when it was clear that his Odin-wound hadn't been fatal. Edward was a man of great wealth and had no fewer than four swords of his own! Four! Unheard of, but he had taken all but one of them from the dead fingers of his opponents, so his possession went unchallenged.
Fog was sitting heavily on the wet grass. Emmett dared not step too confidently on new land. He tested each step as he and his men stalked slowly up the beach. No one had been here before so there were no guides for him. The trees were half an akrlengd from where they had landed and they'd have safety there to scout. Halfway to the trees, he signaled to his men to stop and they did. Other skipniu were on raids as well, he had heard, but without being sure of the land, they didn't risk too many warriors in one place. Emmett crouched down, eyes still on the misty tree line, and scooped up a handful of soil in his free hand. Bringing it to his nose, he inhaled deeply, his senses knowledgable about these things.
"Good for growth, even though there's salt near the source. It's rich earth," he remarked quietly to those nearest him.
"And there's so much!" Halvard whispered, awe in his young voice. "My father would be amazed."
"Amazed enough to join us next year, do you think?" Emmett asked as he began toward the trees again. "We need more able-bodied warriors and Sig is one of the best."
Halvard, still appearing dazed, nodded. "Ja. We can both come with you, Emmett."
They did not have rows and ranks as the Romans, but the Norsemen who strode up from the sea, spears and axes in hand, were nonetheless mighty and effective warriors. Battle was not the purpose of this expedition.
"Will there be gold, do you think, Emmett?" Halvard knew the answer he'd been given before, but he wanted reassurance as his heart started pounding with nerves and incipient fear.
"If not here, then we'll take it out in flesh, lad," Emmett said, his eye on the wooden wall not too far ahead. They were in a lush strip of forest, between the sea and a clearing. Not a natural meadow, the Norseman decided. He was from Nordweg, a country over the sea, and he knew the difference between a natural clearing and one hewn by men. The line was too clear, and the growth beneath too stunted for it to have been a gradual, natural development. No, the new wood of the gate for the enclosure up ahead had been freshly cut.
"Fire," Emmett called, hissing over his shoulder. "Erik. Did you bring the oil?"
"I did, One-Eye." The younger warrior was new to this business as well, but he knew when to pay attention, which was half the secret to staying alive. "And I can make torches in half a shake."
Gathering the other men together, all ten of them, Emmett reiterated their instructions. "Something with such thick walls probably has gold. Look for it. If you see any men who look able, disable them but don't kill them. Yet."
"What about the women?" Úlfr said with a leer.
Emmett did not wish to have his men abuse anyone. To cut off any ideas of rapine, he grabbed Úlfr by his throat. It wasn't hard – Emmett the One-Eyed was stronger than any two men. "These women will not be injured by us. If they're virgins, we'll sell them at a better price. You want to buy one, that's different."
Úlfr sneered, but he didn't mention women again.
A harsh squeaking sound, such as wood makes on new rope, parted the air between the walled community and the men from Nordweg. "Look," Erik whispered with a nudge on Emmett's rock-like arm. "Someone's coming out."
"Don't light the torches yet, lad," Emmett cautioned. He held up his sword and every man's eye was on him. "Ready? We'll rush in."
Tension layered itself on the men's shoulders as they waited for the One-Eyed's signal. The fog drifted still on the clearing in front of the trees, with swirls as might be found in a shallow pool of water. No animals came from the depths of the wood – apparently even they were waiting for the One-Eyed's sword to drop.
The newly made gate – the layers of the wood could still be seen, the bark being newly ripped off in parts and the heart of green wood seen from the tree line – when a wagon rolled slowly from the walled community. Emmett had never seen a place quite like this before – his was the first raiding party to this part of the Green Island. He waited to see if the wagon bore warriors, if he and his men had been seen.
But no. There were only two people in the wagon, both dressed in dark tunics and having partially shaven heads. A large circle was missing from the crown of each head of hair — something Emmett noted but didn't spare time to consider too heavily. He had information to gather, gold to find, and maybe even other riches to take back to Jarl Edward.
Without any further thought, he dropped his sword arm and his men rushed the wagon and the open gate, the torches left behind at the tree line.
"By Odin's Eye!"
"By Thor's Hammer!"
"With the luck of the gods!"
"In the name of my father!"
With roars and the wave-breaking sound of footfalls on the rich earth, the men from the longships rolled up to and into the unsuspecting people of Rathlin Monastery.
Screams. Shouts. Denial was loud and broadly expressed, even if he didn't understand a word of it. Though he said, "Né" and they said, "Na" the word for this denial was easily understood. Emmett ignored it, directing three warriors to subdue the men who linked arms in front of the largest building within the walls. Blood flowed, but he didn't much care about that. People were expendable; the riches they protected were not. And on this small island – they had sailed its entire coastline by moonlight to ascertain its size – there would be no aid to the people in the building.
It was a cluster of buildings, actually. Not large enough that Emmett would call it a village, but more than a household. Dry masonry was prominent. Emmett had inspected it briefly, finding the smaller buildings to have recently-thatched roofs. They'd flame well, if necessary, but he preferred not to destroy the place, because they might need to land here again and his men should have a dry roof available after the long ocean voyage.
The biggest building was the one that most interested him, as his men took grain and wine from the smaller buildings. They were hungry and dried fish for days on end was wearying.
"What is this place?" Emmett demanded of the oldest man who stood inside the doors to the big building. It had a rectangular shape and windows, bespeaking space. A spiral of smoke came from one corner and the One-Eyed was suddenly struck with a wave of homesickness.
Though he didn't understand the words that came from the fellow, he appreciated that the old man tried to answer. Tah ahn Say'pahl. Something nonsensical but it meant something, that was certain. Something the old one was willing to take a stand for, which meant treasure to the Ostman who was raiding and seeking information.
Emmett grabbed the man by his upper arm and had decided to take him along to provide answers as he explored the few rooms of this building. "Gold?" he asked of him. "Jewels?" With a gesture at the chip of garnet on his cloak pin, Emmett tried to inquire about where such forms of wealth might be stored, here.
The man grew pale underneath the layers of dirt and sweat on his bearded chin. "Na," he blurted. "Na!" Then, he spied something that must have been coming from behind Emmett, for the elder's mouth gaped open as muddy brown eyes widened in fear and negation. "Na!" And then a sound like "Ah-nehmikal."
Emmett didn't bother trying to figure out what the Islander had said – he spun around, holding the native captive under his arm while he held his own sword at the ready.
He almost dropped it in shock. There, standing tall and proud and wrapped in an unbleached cloak over some kind of rust-brown under-gown was a goddess. He almost knelt in adoration. A slanted stripe of morning sunlight touched her from an aperture high above, making her long blond hair glow as if it were the tip of a candle's flame.
"My lady," Emmett breathed, overwhelmed entirely. The old man in his grasp jerked and Emmett let him go – his attention dangerously wrapped around the vision in front of him. "Are you flesh or ghost?"
Her eyes were the color of the fjørds after a melt. A crystal blue that pierced him and burned him at the same time. She spoke and he was convinced she was human, because her voice went directly to his groin. He just had no idea what she had said.
He had a job to do and his sudden, painful need was not helping. He refused to take the lady, though. He was convinced the crystal-eyed woman was a lady of birth and Emmett knew he could not look his own mother in the eye if he did anything she found abhorrent. "Where is the gold?" he demanded, sounding stupid and breathless and like a clumsy beast in heat.
She shook her head and pointed to the door. Something fluid and musical came from her pink lips, but he didn't understand her words. The gesture, though, he ignored, because that's when the old man reappeared, running lopsidedly, only one arm visible outside his tunic.
"Sneaky bastard," Emmett said, half growling, half in laughter as he lunged at the old one and tackled him to the stamped-earth floor of the building. As he did so, the smell of herbs and mint brushed swiftly past him and his goddess was gone.
She can't get far, he told himself as he tore the thin cloth from the elder's back. The much-washed fabric ripped easily, falling from dirty skin with a sallow shade detectable in some spots. "Give me that," Emmett demanded. He wasn't even angry, instead giving the man his due for being bold and daring. "What is it?" Then, "Oh."
The syllable was breathed out in lingering appreciation as he examined the wooden object in his hand. Ignoring the defeated slump of the old man, Emmett held the wooden box-like thing with care. It was embedded with a gem of fair size, as well as silver and even gold worked into an inlaid design. With a quick flip of his hand, he untied the leather thongs that held it together to see what might be within. Thin sheets of animal skins. With writing. Some drawings were on these hides too, but nothing that meant anything to the Ostman of Nordweg. His attention was caught by the gem and metals.
He cut the thin hides out of the wooden cover and left it on the floor of the room before picking the old man up in his enormous hand. "My name is Emmett Karlsson. Who are you?" he asked, tired of referring to the fellow as Old Man. He poked the fellow in the ribs with a thick finger. "Eh? What's your name?"
The bearded man rolled his head around on his neck and glared weakly up at Emmett. "Marcus."
"Marcus? Fine. Show me more of these," Emmett directed, waving the wooden panel in front of the elderly man's face. The Ostman yanked Marcus, not too painfully, back in the direction from whence the elder had come. "Come on. If you do, you'll live. I promise you that." He nodded for emphasis.
Not that it mattered. The old one didn't speak a word of Norse and Emmett did not know what tongue these Green Islanders spoke.
At the corner of the room, in the shade, there was an archway into the next room. Marcus winced and glanced longingly at what Emmett held. Emmett grinned and lifted his forearm to rub at his eye. It itched. On this raiding party, he had left his leather patch on the skipniu. The reasons for this were twofold. First, he didn't want to lose the patch. His farmstead boasted a leatherworker, but leather was important mostly for shoes and armor, not for the face. Second, he knew that his face was more frightening with the drooping flap of skin over the cavity where his eye used to be. It was intimidating.
The goddess wasn't intimidated by me, he recalled with a dimpled smile that completely unnerved Marcus to the point that the man actually voided his bladder while standing upright in the small connecting room.
The sound of urine hitting packed earth prompted Emmett to shove the old one away from him, so that Marcus hit the wall with an "Oomph!" and a slow slide to the floor. Emmett rolled his eye in disgust before stepping further into the room. It smelled odd. Like...burnt bark and fire-charred rock and leather and some sharp, unusual odors. Some he couldn't quite place a name to, but could taste on his tongue.
Tables with more piles of the cured skins. Skins so thin that light shone through them when he held them up. Emmett grunted and turned from the long tables where the sheaves of hides rested in their shifting piles. A mouse caught his attention for a moment as it scurried through the door. The old man kicked at it ineffectually, sighing afterward.
"It's all right, Marcus. Just a mouse. Me, you should worry about," he said with another grin.
There was a chest in the triangle of shade created by the light coming in through a high, sheltered window. The angle of the sun brought the early morning rays in under a rocky overhang, which Emmett guessed was to protect the hides from rain. Wet animal skins rotted very quickly. And stank to the stars, too. With an investigative sniff, Emmett crossed to the iron-bound chest, hearing the sounds of his men gathering and piling metal and food outside. Laughter, shouts, and some other masculine indications of pleasure reached his ears. Emmett had instructed the men not to rape the women; that was the best he could do.
At least until he heard the scream.
"Goddess!" Emmett rasped, his muscles tensing so that he could barely breathe. It was only when the laughter was renewed that fury powered Emmett right out of the room with its still-unopened chest, past Marcus on the floor, across the half-lit main room and through the open door. His roar preceded him. "Enough!"
His men froze, some of them with strips of bread dangling from their bearded faces or open skins spilling wine onto the ground. Their eyes had jerked from where they were watching Úlfr manhandle a woman, though, and he saw the shame and mild defiance in several pairs of eyes. He'd deal with the latter later.
Just now, he stomped over to Úlfr, letting his rage pound into the ground so he didn't kill his man. Úlfr was his second navigator and he couldn't afford to kill him.
"Let her go," he ground out.
"Now, she's a spicy handful, One-Eye! Maybe you want to try her first?" Úlfr squeezed a breast on the blond goddess and she spat in his face.
Úlfr's skin went red in ire but before he could retaliate, Emmett had his sword off his back and in his hand. "No," was all he said before he hit the navigator on the crown of the head with the hilt of his own honor-sword. Úlfr collapsed with a grunt, dragging the golden goddess with him as the men laughed self-consciously about him.
Emmett's goddess scrambled to her feet, her eyes wary like a hunted animal. Emmett cringed visibly to see that. His goddess should not ever have to look like that. In one large, sweeping motion he slid Úlfr's eating knife from the man's sheath and caught the golden one's eye.
"Here," he said, offering the weapon to her hilt-first. "Keep it."
The men started to protest, but he swept his one-eyed gaze around them. "Enough! I told you and I am telling you again, you will not force any woman while you sail with me." With an abrupt jerk of his head, he sent them back to work, piling treasure and food.
He himself turned again to the blue-eyed woman who stood motionless, the knife gripped tightly in her dirty hands. "Emmett," he said after he returned his sword to the back-sheath he had strapped to himself. He had learned from Marcus that proper introductions didn't really work, here. He pointed at her. "You?"
The woman blinked, clutched the knife to her breast and swallowed visibly as she used her free hand to pluck hair from her face and push it over her shoulder. "Ego sum Ann Em Uhkull." That's what it sounded like to him, anyway.
She pressed her lips together and huffed loudly through her nose. "Rowse?" At his continued incomprehension – for which Emmett felt incredibly stupid, but he felt himself falling under her spell anyway – she huffed again and knelt to the dirt, glaring up at him as she drew a flower as a bud and in full bloom.
"Steg! Your name is Steg!" A golden rose, a beauty here in a most unexpected place. Emmett's heart beat loudly in his chest as he just stared at her before offering his hand to bring her to her feet. "I think I want to keep you," he murmured, "but...not while you're holding that knife between us."
At first, her body tensed, but when she tugged herself away he let her go. He in no way wanted her afraid of him. "Emmett?" she whispered.
With a grin, he nodded. "I'm Emmett. And I'll be back for you."
Impulsively, he leaned in to kiss the crown of her head, only to feel the tip of the knife at his throat. Laughing, he backed up three steps, hands in the air. "All right! Not today! But soon!"
As the sun rose to mid-sky, Emmett and his men gathered the valuables and as much food and fresh water as this Island could spare. Then, he rounded up old Marcus, who was leaning, his tears dried, against the wall of the largest building, watching as the gems and metals were wrapped in cloth and carried away. Wooden chests were unnecessary weight, Emmett had decided. His men could sacrifice their own cloaks to bring the treasure home.
"Come with me, Old Man," he said with a beckoning gesture. "You'll be well cared for. We need to learn your language before we come back."
Marcus spat on him, but allowed himself to be pulled along as Emmett turned to look one last time at the vision of beauty who lingered in the open door. "I'm coming back for you, Steg!"
"Ann-uhmuhkull!" she shouted back, her confidence restored when she was allowed to change her under tunic and comb her hair. The knife, she still held tightly to her. "Gratias ago vos, Emmett," she called as he walked away, half-dragging Marcus alongside.
To the Ostman, Steg's words meant she was grateful for the knife and looked forward to seeing him again. He prayed to Odin he interpreted that correctly.
Waves hit the sides of the skipniu with a sound that said, "Go home! Go home!" to Emmett. But they also sent a curling within his chest. A feeling that said,Home? Where's that? The farm or the Island? My family or my Island Rose?
His men were all aboard the few longships, the food and treasures divided between them. Spears and shields – largely unused – were replaced along the interior of the hull so that he could see them as he lingered ankle-deep in the sea, his boots sodden once again as he studied the land. This was but a small island – the larger one was visible now that the fog had burned away – but it would serve as a base in the future, if they could make it safe.
The voice was already in his mind like a favorite song. Strong, feminine, musical. His Island Rose. How did she say her name? Her language? "Ann-uhmuhkull!"
She approached with decision, her strides firm as they left the grass and reached the salt-crusted rocks near the water. "Gratias," she said, holding the knife against her breasts.
From the nearest longship, Úlfr cursed foully, but there was a sharp metallic sound as someone cuffed him on his hardened leather armor. Emmett ignored them and moved through the waves to meet his goddess.
She held the knife up and then, with her crystalline eyes holding him absolutely captive, she slowly put her knife hand behind her back. Hope exploded in him, like waves splashing high against a rock. Joyful and filled with energy and the potential for more. He slogged out of the water to stand right in front of her, within reach of her slender arm and newly-washed hands. "Steg," he murmured.
"Ann-uhmuhkull," she repeated, her perfectly shaped lips quirking in a tentative smile.
Moving slowly, as he would with a skittish animal, he touched her hair and stepped closer again. "Beautiful."
"Emmett," she breathed. He smiled again and she repeated his name.
"Ann-uhmuhkull," he said in the same warm tone. "I'll be back. Back for you."
Her eyes drank him in and he brought himself flush with her body, so close he could feel the powerful heart within her, beating in time with his own. Slowly, just in case she wanted to bring that knife into the moment again, he lowered his head to hers and brushed his lips along the line of her face, her cheek, grazing her jaw. Making sure this was welcome to her. She had sought him, he reminded himself. She had.
With an impatient sound, she turned her head so that her lips met his. Lightly, then more firmly, then her hand was on his chest and his was behind her head and he lost himself.
"One-Eye! Are we leaving you with your Island woman?" The laughter and jests sounded from the skipniu.
"I'll come back for you," Emmett promised against the warm skin of her cheek. He knew she didn't know his words, but he hoped he was able to convey his intention in his eye.
Hers were eloquent. They told him she'd be waiting.