tagRomanceEleanor Ch. 13

Eleanor Ch. 13

bysacrificedangel©

Sibbe watched as the two remaining hired guards returned from the woods, their footsteps slow and their faces wore a grim mask. She knew they had failed in their task of capturing Anika and Varin. She scrutinized every movement as they passed glances to one another before stopping at the steps as their two satchels landed at their feet with a resounding crack against the stone work.

"There is your food for the day and night. You are being paid a vast fortune for your work and I expect to get what I want for the trouble of paying you!" Sibbe paused, the hired guards bending to retrieve their packs before the yard dogs ran off with them. "Get back into the woods, search everywhere; it is only a child and a whelp of a boy!! Mayhap I should be paying them as hired guards, they have killed more than one of you, yet you seem unable to locate the bastards!" She spat, keeping her voice low so the waking villagers could not hear her. To them, she was just their Mistress' helpful, overweight stepsister. They knew nothing, and she would keep it that way. With a dismissive wave, she sent the two remaining guards back off in their search and re entered her new home.

"Have they been found yet Mama?" Inga asked, already deeply engrossed in her morning cider and oatmeal, while lathering a mountain of bread with honey even while she still chewed.

"No. They cannot have just vanished into thin air though. How did they do it Inga? She is barely eight, and he is a boy of fifteen, although he is a strong lad, I will grant him that. He would have made a good match for you Inga, if he had stayed out of all this."

"NO Mama," Inga spat, crumbs of crusty bread escaping from her mouth in her outrage, "...do not go marrying me off with mere guards! I am a lady of this house now, I demand a good marriage!"

Standing from the dais, a portion of lamb in her closed fist falling to the floor in her anger, Sibbe glared at her daughter.

"Inga, I doubt I could sell you to a vagrant!! You should be thankful for a mere guard!" Sibbe shouted before storming to Matilda's chambers.

Entering the plush room, Sibbe felt no guilt; Matilda had experienced this luxury all her years, had a brave husband, and had lived in comfort. The tapestry that covered the walls was beautiful work, and the giant bed that Erick had made for her when they married, made the room decadent and warm. How she hated everything her sister had now, that had fallen from Sibbe's grasp, married off to a man she cared nothing for, the gentle fool died then and left her to support herself. She knew she had frittered away the fortune, she knew it, but how else was she going to keep up with her step sister? She was the older one; she should have had all this.

"And now I do."

Falling backwards onto the bed, she heard the wood protest her weight, but did not care. This was all hers now. By now Matilda would be lying dead at Vera's doorstep, she would find the hidden room eventually, the one that held her sister's fortune, hidden coins and prized possessions, and she would live out her days in the comfort she was meant to. She just needed her guards to rid her of Anika and Varin. Then she could breathe.

***********************

"We cannot get round the point Matilda," Erick began, straining with the small sail as the hefty breeze took their small boat dangerously close to the rocks. "We will have to dock here till it dies down, and then hopefully be on our way again before nightfall."

"Erick, we cannot waste an entire day here!! Each day we lose is another day Anika and Varin are in danger from her!!" Matilda stood, attempting to tower over her sitting husband, her hands on her hips and her stance steadfast and determined, the only betrayal of her turmoil being the single tear that escaped from her glistening dark eyes. "Please," she pleaded, "we must try."

"Matilda, we cannot." Her tears flowed freely as he dragged her down against his chest with his free arm, controlling the sail with the other. "We are no good to them in pieces along with our boat. Do not be fearful, Varin would give his last breath for our girl, as well you know it. He has looked upon her as a blessed little sister since the day she was born, and has protected her as such since then. Cannot have been easy being the youngest of such a family of males, no wonder he wished for a sister to protect."

Erick smiled, picturing the many times young Varin had protected Anika from all manner of disasters. She was a calamity of a child, forever falling and climbing, often resulting in a rescue although she was ever oblivious as to why she was being saved. The memories ran through Matilda's weary mind too, bringing a small smile to her lips.

"She is in safe hands." Matilda finally agreed, gazing forlornly at the point as they moved into the cove, blocking it from her view. Matilda felt the boat rock as Erick jumped into the knee high tide, the splash sounding so loud in the early morning, even as the breeze echoed in her ears. Docking the boat, Matilda grabbed at Erick's arm before he could move away.

"Don't go, please. Just stay with me a bit longer." Her voice barely a whisper, Erick climbed back in beside her, settling his broad back against the wooden seat as he pulled his tired wife against him, cradling her in his arms as he rested his head against hers, breathing in that scent of cinnamon soap she used on her hair, its dark waves a startling contrast to her pale skin.

"I have missed you." Matilda breathed against her husband's chest, and had to bite her lip to stop her from weeping. "It's been so long, two years Erick since anyone has seen you. I didn't know if you were dead or alive, or if you were ever coming home. Then Anika got the letter from Cal that you may be back in a few weeks, and –and I..." She was crying now, her sobs tore through her, even as Erick's hands smoothed over her back, soothing her ragged breaths.

"I have been unable to come back before now Matilda. The threat to home was immense. It was only recently that our men were no longer needed and we were being sent back to Bergen through Denmark. Matilda, it was then I heard of the plot to kill you. I would have never have made it home in time. I befriended the man, who did not question me when I told him I was interested in the job, and we planned to kill you. It was on the day that you docked that he told me the identity of the schemer, and the reasons behind it. I am sorry I was away from you for so long, not laughing with you, or kissing you." Erick kissed away his wife's tears, bringing the blanket over her against the morning's chill as he cradled her close.

He would not let her step sister win. Sibbe did not deserve anything he and Matilda had worked so hard to ensure for their entire village. They would need help, Erick decided, their army were still traveling home, too far away. Auden.

Erick's eyes snapped open at that thought. The Auden had plenty of men, they had also been fighting in the Gaul lands with him, but some remained to protect Astrid and even as far as the Haur lands too, from the northern in-fighting. They would go and speak with Astrid, ask her for her men's help, before they went home to confront Sibbe. Knowing her she would have hired help. And not the honorable kind.

"Matilda. We should go to Astrid," Erick paused as Matilda sat up hope gleaming in her eyes, "we can leave now, I have coins for horses, and go straight there and..." "...and come back with Astrid's army!" Matilda finished for him, jumping to embrace him closer. "We can leave now?" Matilda prompted, the feeling of sheer giddiness dancing through her, making Erick smile at the sight of his wife's improved mood. "We can leave now."

*********************************************

Varin carefully stepped down from the shelter of the plateau onto the small shore to wash, the sun was a couple of hours from its midpoint, the cliffs warming considerably despite the wintry wind, as he brought the water up to wash dried sweat and blood from his body. He had spent a fretful day and night at the entrance to the small cave, watching and waiting for discovery; after he heard the Gaul guard's footsteps pass over the top of the cliff face repeatedly in the day since they escaped. His eyes had met poor Anika's the first time he heard them, the sadness he caught in the dim glow of the cave, not frightened, merely resigned. And that broke his heart. She was a child; she should never have to witness such horrors. He had allowed her to see blood shed, he had fallen and failed her, left her to their attacker's devices. He repeated his prayer of thanks to both Odin and Freya that the little Loki had the sheer determination of her brother Ragnar. For that was the only thing that saved her.

"Varin, can I come out now?" Anika called quietly from the entrance of the cave. Pulling his clean tunic over his head, Varin sent another prayer to the heavens in thanks for Ragnar's preparation skills. There were clothes here for his mother, sister and male clothing too, just in case they should ever be needed, he had created a save haven.

"Yes Anika, come down." Varin replied, holding his hands out to help her down without making too much noise on the rocks. "I brought clothes for you, wash and get changed, I will see to food." Varin climbed up the boulders onto the plateau to collect dried foods Ragnar had left for emergencies. It had been a while since they had both eaten normally, they had survived these past weeks on scraps he could steal and share with Anika late at night. Last night, although famished, neither had the stomach for food, so today was a treat for the eyes.

Cooked and dried fish, flat breads, even cider were in the tightly sealed wooden box. As Varin laid some of the food out, he fought is tiredness, he had watched over Anika while she slept, did not want anyone to find them, he did not want to fail her again. Even as his lids grew heavy, he had caught brief moments of sleep and then forced himself back to the land of the living. He knew though, he would be no use if he did not give into his exhaustion at some point.

"Varin, you left me a dress." Anika called up quietly, as Varin went to the edge of the plateau to respond.

"Aye, you are a girl!" he laughed.

"Varin, can I have boy's garments please? The cave is not warm, and it would be more comfortable. Plus I do not want it to hinder an escape. The guard grabbed my dress, I wish to avoid that."

"It will not happen again, I promise. But I will get you something, we may need to cut them, I do not think your brother provided for his little sister to wear boy's clothes." Varin shivered as he walked back into the cave, and not from the cold. She was not thinking like a little girl, she was thinking rationally. It took a moment to convince himself that she had always been very forthright. Convince himself he had not turned her older than she should be. He sighed, and went about looking for smaller male garments. She always was rational, nothing has changed. I hope.

"Anika, these are the smallest, put them on and we will cut the legs to your height." Varin said, as he passed down the brown trousers and tunic. He passed down her own wool stockings to her, knowing the knitted socks the men wore would dwarf her. "Come up when you are changed, there is fish and flat bread."

Turning around, Varin nearly fell from the plateau before a hand grabbed for him to steady him.

"Esme, what are you doing here?"

"Shh Varin, I've come to give you food, I can't stay long." Esme spoke, hushed, and looked around her as though she was hunted.

"How did you know we would be here? Did they see you?" Varin asked, panicked.

"Nay, they didn't see me, but they are asking questions of the villagers, as to where you might have gone, do we know of anyone who is harboring you. I knew you would be here, Ragnar told me of this place, and asked me to look after who ever was forced here." Esme said, showing Varin the basket of warm bread, honey and fresh fish she had hidden. "Who are you talking to? Anika asked as she pulled herself up to the plateau. "Esme!!! Oh it's so good to see you!!"

"Good morning Anika, I brought you both some food. Take it inside Anika and eat," Esme paused, allowing the girl to take the basket from her and run into the cave. "I need to leave before anyone realizes I am gone. No one else but me knows of this place, so something may be said innocently." Esme continued, pulling Varin away from the cave entrance. "Varin, please keep her safe, she is such a kind child."

"I will; you had better get back Esme and thank you." Varin said, turning from the girl before she pulled him back to her and kissed him gently on his cheek. Before he could move away in shock, Esme straightened herself, and moved to walk back round the steep cliff.

"Take care of yourself too Varin." She smiled, before she disappeared from sight.

Varin stood completely shocked, the faint tingle still lingered on his cheek, and he truly did not know what to say. He had never thought of women, been too busy training to fight, protecting Anika and the Lady Matilda. He knew he was different from his brothers, nigh all of them had tupped the first chambermaid they could find once they had an idea how to do it, and before they had gone off to war, and died, they had teased him mercilessly about his lack of interest. He wondered whether he should be feeling anything now, other than profoundly dumbstruck.

When Varin pulled himself back to reality, he had decided he was not sure this kissing thing was anything worth fussing over; he was just shocked that the girl had done it. Smiling after her, Varin shook his head at the situation, before turning back to the cave for food that his stomach was protesting intensely for, finding Anika digging in with fervor to the warm bread and honey, with a smile of pure glee on her face. This was the Anika he knew.

**************************

"Come, we must move quickly." Kailara's hand held Eleanor's so tight she watched it grow paler as they ran from the walls and into the woods, the morning chill being driven hard from the ground with the sun's appearance, a fine mist rising from the soil.

"Kailara, wait, please." Eleanor implored, dragging her heels as the tall walls disappeared from view. "Please, I need to go back, I need to find Bruni!"

Eleanor halted in her tracks, pulling the short woman to an abrupt stop and immediately felt like she had brought the wrath of Loki down upon her shoulders when the tiny female leveled a cold expression at the hesitation.

"Kailara plea..." Eleanor's words dried in her mouth when she heard a broad sword unsheathing, the act was quiet, deliberate, as though the attacker wished to ambush. Raising a finger to her lips as Kailara drew breath to question her, Eleanor silenced her and brought her own hand across her ripped tunic to the dagger she had there.

She wanted the Gaul to attack; she wanted him to think he had the upper hand. She wanted to kill him, and she felt sick at the thought. Hearing the rustle of the leaves behind her, Eleanor heard the whoosh of the blade rather than saw it through the mist, before she ducked under the attack, embedding the short dagger through the man's heart.

Watching the shock and pain create a glaze over the man's brown eyes as he slowly sank to the ground at her knees; his blood covered her hands as he took his last unsteady breath, Eleanor could not help but retch, her stomach churning in its painful emptiness, she fell to her knees and sobbed. "Wait here." Kailara spoke, softly before heading through the tall grass and into the mist. "I will not be long."

Eleanor nodded, and felt her chest constrict. She needed him, she needed Bruni, she wanted him to appear from the mists and cradle her against his chest like he had in the boat. Needed him to tell her it would be fine, that it would be over, and that they would all be safe. Needed him to kiss her. Eleanor gulped slightly at her memory of his lips softly brushing over her own, the fleeting movement so gentle she could not put entire faith in the thought that it was a kiss. She felt her resolve come to her, quick and readying and her tears stopped, her breathing calmed at that thought.

Being able to live in safety; somewhere that she could live without the stigma of being a child borne from a mute mother, somewhere to live without the threat of violence. To live somewhere where she could be with Bruni, to be his? Eleanor ran a trembling hand over her damp brow and pondered that. She cared about him, her heart was hammering within her chest, her body trying to calm itself enough to head back and ensure his safety, but did she love him? Eleanor felt her heart thump in response, as if the organ could answer the question and was impatient within her chest to impart its knowledge. How would Bruni feel about her, would he care in that way for her at all?

Eleanor stood up, pulling the sides of her ripped tunic closed, the nip of the cold air biting at her skin when she heard light footfalls coming back through the grass. Raising the dagger and the sword, Eleanor felt the protest of her shoulder at the weight of the weapon, but had no time to switch arms now as a silhouette exited from the grass, a small figure, its short hair as dark and as beautiful as the rest of her; even as her eyes held the ghosts of tears and around her neck lay the embroidered and bound leather of Alexander's necklace, faded and stained by the months of rain and sun. Eleanor could not take her eyes from it as it rested around Kailara's small throat, fighting tears of her own.

"Come, we go now and find your Viking."

*****************

Nikolai stood firm at the bow, directing the rowers quietly through the morning tide, rounding the bay to a little further north; it would confuse the Gauls but Bruni would know exactly where they would be. He was raging inside; the contract was to be fulfilled. He had never wanted the contract to be fulfilled, they had lived in peace with the Haur for over twenty years now, albeit because there was a contract between the two sides of Norway. Leaning back against the head of the boat, Nikolai felt like sulking. As if he were nothing more than a child, he felt like indulging in that trait; he did not want a wife.

All women were good for tupping, he agreed with that whole heartedly, but he had never wanted a wife. Never wanted to be responsible for another person in that manner; was the main reason he never finished within a woman, he had no intention of being responsible for something so helpless.

Taking a swing of the warm cider Nikolai cursed. He cursed their father for entering the contract; he cursed Eirik for signing the damn thing. And he cursed Bruni for finding the wench. Throwing the cup out into the still waters, Nikolai contemplated escaping from the boat now, forever in exile from his homeland. Granted he was rarely home, it had been at least 6 months since he had last seen his next-mother Astrid, probably longer before that too. Would he be home with a wife? Would his life change?

Eyeing the clear skies, Nikolai sent a prayer skyward to Loki, a god he had always felt an affinity for, and begged for rescue. The last thing he wanted, hell, the things he had been avoiding all his life, would be here soon. And, as Bruni had said, the contract was to be fulfilled.

"I bet she is a hag." He whispered in secret to the sea.

*******************

His heart was pounding so hard, he thought it was preparing to exit his body. Bruni stalked from the door in the wall out into the open, desperately scanning for any sign of her. There were so many foot prints in the frigid soil, he could not discern if any were her size, the place looked empty of life, as though everything in sight had realized the futility of fighting them and ran for the hills.

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