Aiya awoke to the sounds of women chattering, was it late, or early? She could not tell for there were no windows in the room. She sat up on the bed, holding her torn dress to cover herself.
There were three women, moving about. One was very young, with a scar over her left eye. She was still quite pretty with gold tresses and rosy lips.
The other woman working with her was older and rather plump. She seemed to be coaching the girl on what to do. They were fiddling with a wooden bathing tub; the older woman was putting some dried herbs in the steaming water.
The other woman stood in the doorway.
“Tis lavender she is putting in the bath, a pleasant scent I think,” Spoke the woman in the doorway, in near perfect English.
Aiya recognized her immediately. She was the Jarl’s wife, the woman she had seen in the Great Hall on her arrival, mother to Ragda and Dagr.
“I am Lady Ingrid. Here, I have brought you a gown to wear, one of my own.”
She tossed the plain cream gown on the bed.
“Thank you,” Aiya spoke.
“Do not thank me, I would have done no such thing, thank my husband,”
“My Lady if I have done anything to upset you…” Her words were cut short.
“You should bathe, and dress before my son returns. Food will be sent to you,” She motioned to the other women.
“The young one there is Esma, and the other is my most trusted servant Zita. They will see to your comforts,” At that she turned on her heels and left the room.
Aiya was dumbfounded. Why would the Jarl request such a thing? She had not said a single word to that man, yet she was blamed by both Dagr and his mother for catching his eye.
The woman called Zita began to squawk orders at Aiya as though she could understand her. When Aiya only eyed her in confusion, the women walked over and practically shoved her off the bed.
“Få I badekaret, dum jente,” The old woman mumbled.
She did everything she could to keep herself covered, Zita lumbered over to her and began pulling the dress from her body. Aiya was mortified, never had she bathed in front of anyone before.
“We only wish to bathe you,” spoke the young girl in English. She surprised Aiya, who stood with her mouth open, staring at her, all the while trying to fend off the old hag.
“I beg your pardon, but I do not need help to bathe…. get… this… woman… off me!” She struggled to say.
“Those are our orders from our Lady, therefore we must. Please don’t fight her, you won’t win. We only wish to help you. Avreise henne alene,” She spoke to the old woman.
Aiya thought about it for a moment. It was not her time to fight yet, so she gave in, and let the woman take her dress. She was left standing naked and freezing in the cold room.
“Flytja, please; get in the tub, the water is quite warm. It will feel lovely to have a bath I’m sure, after so many weeks on the boats,” She motioned toward the wooden tub, she sounded sincere.
Aiya stepped into the bath, it was the greatest feeling she had felt in many harsh months. The smell of lavender water flooded her nose, and she relaxed, until the old crow began to rub her skin away.
“Ouch!” She yelped. “You’re too rough!”
Zita muttered something aloud that Aiya could not understand. “Utålelig tispe,”
“What did the old bat say?”
Esma gave a small smile. “It’s best you ignore her,”
“That’s a hard thing to do when she’s rubbing my flesh from my bones!”
Zita put her hand on Aiya’s head and dunked her under the water. Aiya came up, sputtering curses she didn’t know she knew. All the while Zita still muttering and clicking her tongue; began to rub honey soap into Aiya’s damp hair. When she was done she again, dunked her head under the water and again, Aiya came up sputtering curses.
“There! You are all clean,” Esma said in a cheery tone holding up a towel that had been warming by the fire.
Aiya glared at Zita for a moment while she wiped the water and soap from her eyes, then stood up for Esma to wrap the towel around her bare shoulders. Esma then spoke to Zita for a moment and the old women left the room.
She motioned for Aiya to sit in a chair by the fire. Aiya obeyed and welcomed the warmth of the flames. Esma pulled out a wooden brush and began to run it through Aiya’s hair.
“Where are you from?”
“I don’t know, I was taken from my home as a child, I don’t remember much,”
“That is very sad. You have beautiful hair; I wished mine was like yours,”
“Your hair is very beautiful,”
“Thank you,” Esma blushed. She was very gentle with her, and her words were kind and sweet.
“Esma, how did you learn English so well?”
“My people have raided England so often and brought back many slaves. Most of which speak English. I learned from them,”
“I forgot to ask, what is this place called?” She observed the room.
“This is the city of Hafrafell,” She said. “To the west is Hedeby, and just beyond that is the vast trading city of Kattegat,”
“Is this your home?”
Her smile faded. “Nei, I am from the North,”
“What is in the North?”
“The Danes.” She stared into the calming flames of the fire. They were silent for a while; Esma finished brushing the tangles from Aiya’s hair.
“Come, I will help you into your dress,”
The dress was a plain cream color with long sleeves, the hem dragged on the floor behind her. The dress came off her shoulders leaving them bare, the fabric was so thin she felt naked.
“Look’s better on you than Lady Ingrid,”
At that moment, Zita came into the room carrying a tray. She set it down on the small table next to Aiya and turned to stand by Esma.
“We leave you now Aiya, we must go before Dagr returns.” Esma sounded nervous when she spoke Dagr’s name.
“Goodnight, I hope we will become good friends,” At that Esma turned and left the room, Zita following suit.
She did not wish for Dagr’s return, as she played with her soup. Suddenly she was no longer hungry. Instead, she took a sip of the ale; it was warm and sweet on her tongue. She sat by the fire to dry her long hair, it had grown to her waist over the few weeks she had traveled. As she sipped her ale, her thoughts wandered to Noah. She used to sit by the fire with him as his mother read stories to them.
She loved books, though she could not read, they were magical. They helped her escape her wicked life, even if only for a moment. She loved the written word, philosophy, religion, history. It didn’t matter, it was all wonderful to her. Noah would sit with her under the big oak tree on his farm and try to teach her to read. They never had much time, for she would always need to get back to work. It was those small moments she would treasure forever, deep in her heart.
Suddenly, the door burst open, bringing Aiya back to her grim reality.
It was Dagr.
He took an unstable step towards her and fumbled. He caught himself and turned towards the bed away from her. He landed face down on the soft bedding, still clothed. Aiya could hear his soft snores and knew he was passed out. Aiya decided to put pillows down on the fur rug by the fire, she would sleep there tonight. She managed to find a blanket, she laid down pulling it over her and fell deep into her dreams.
The girl’s dreams must have been nightmares for she kicked and whimpered in her sleep on the floor.
Dagr sat on his hunches peering down over her, arms resting on his knees. He saw how pretty she was, curled on the floor by the fire.
He had woken that morning with a pounding in his head to find his bed empty where she should have been.
He was still clothed from the night before; his black loose fitted shirt was wrinkled, so he searched for another.
He stood and left his chambers to find food, and a remedy for his head, leaving the girl to her restless sleep.
He was far too ill to deal with her just yet, but he knew he would have her that night. He felt obsessed with her. He knew his brother and the Jarls minds were filled with her face as well, as though she had some magic spell over them, but she would be his.
He entered the kitchens to find some salted meats and ale to kill his headache.
“God morgen Esma,” A wicked smile on his lips. Esma’s hand went to her heart, she was terrified of him.
“Morgenen min Herre,” Dagr began to circle her like a hawk.
“Would have been better if I had the smell of a woman on me this morn.” touching her arm to spin her around to face him. He grabbed her by the hair and tilted her face up to his. He began to back her up into the pantry, closing the door. She would satisfy his hunger until he could release it on to Aiya. Esma would suffer what Aiya should have the night before. His brother had gotten him far too drunk last night to perform; tonight, he would have her…
Aiya awoke to silence, she shot upright fearing Dagr was near, the room was empty. She had a feeling of dread in her stomach, but she could not place it. She would ignore it, for now, standing she folded her blanket and tucked it away. She walked to the door hoping it was unlocked, it was.
She turned with a start, to see Annie running towards her. She smiled and held her arms out to her.
Annie spoke first. “I’m so happy to see you!”
Annie’s smile faded. “Aiya, your cheek, what happened?”
Aiya’s hand went to her face to touch the tender bruise.
“Tis Dagr’s doing, he is a monster, Annie!”
Aiya was grim. Her features change from an adventuress girl to a woman of grief. Annie could remember a time when Aiya was a spirited young girl, full of life. Even though her life was not one of ease she had still been able to find her smile and some joy.
“Aiya, you must show no fear,”
“I know I must resist, I must find a way to escape,”
“Where will you go, Aiya?” Annie asked. “You don’t even know where we are,”
“Hafrafell, that is where we are now,” Aiya whispered. “I also know to the North is Denmark and west of here is a place called Kattegat, it is a trade city with many, made ready boats,”
“Aiya you can’t be serious, they could kill you for even thinking about escaping.” Annie’s eyes turned to something behind Aiya causing her to turn around.
“Does my brother know you’re roaming around freely?” Ragda ridiculed. “Are you not even going to thank me?” He crossed his arms over his chest in a jesting manner.
“Interrupting you and my brother’s little romantic scene last night, did he not come back too drunk?” He smiled, impishly.
“There was nothing romantic about it, but I do suppose, I owe you my thanks,”
He raised one eyebrow at her. “Well, that was too easy,” A cheeky grin forming on his lips.
The way he was looking at her made her heart skip. How could he do that to her, all she could think about was his kiss he had shared with her in anger. She still thought about it and hated herself for feeling something she should not. Even she had to admit, he was a better choice than Dagr.
“Why do I always find you lost in thought?”
She gave a small smile. “I am not lost,”
“That doesn’t look good,” He took a finger and ran it across her bruise.
He stepped away from her. “Word of advice for you, do what my brother asks,” At that he turned and left.