A Glibertarians Exclusive:  Season of Ice III

Port Stronghold

As the sky outside the narrow windows were going dark, the innkeeper brought Mabinne her supper as promised – a thick stew of vegetables and the flesh of some bird or another, accompanied by a small bowl of nuts warmed in the oven and a bronze mug of coarse ale.  Mabinne ate and drank, enjoying the best meal she had eaten since her capture.

She added some wood to the fireplace, then yawned hugely; she was exhausted.  She looked at the bed, then at the nightgown; she was not yet willing to wear it, knowing how Hengist was liable to react if he returned and found her wearing it.  Instead, she used the pot hanging on the fireplace to heat some water from the jug and basin with which the room was supplied.  She undressed, washed from head to toe for the first time in days, combed out her long brown hair, put on one of the new tunics and leggings outfits Hengist had bought her, padded in bare feet to the bed and lay down.

Then a thought occurred to her.  She got up again, picked up her Beretan clothes.  The dress was badly soiled and torn; her old undergarments were not salvageable.  The leather shoes were still serviceable – barely – but seemed unlikely footwear for the cold North.  Bundling her old clothes and her old life up, she pitched the bundle into the fireplace, then lay back down.  It was wonderful to finally be clean, in clean clothes; she relaxed completely for the first time since the Northman had broken into her farmhouse.  Sleep came quickly.

It was pitch-dark in the room when she heard the key turn in the lock.

Mabinne sat up suddenly in the darkness.  The door creaked open, slowly, and in staggered Hengist, more than a little unsteady.  The strong odor of ale preceded him.  He held a clearly empty flagon in one hand, a guttering candle-lamp in the other.  Grunting, he closed the door behind him and slumped to the floor, back against the heavy door panel.

Mabinne looked at the big raider, so clearly drunk, but was surprised to see no threat in him.  He looked somewhat downcast.

“Mabinne,” he said, “M’sweet.  I’m… sorry.  Sorry I dragged you into all this business.  You seem a fine woman.  Deserve better.”

“You could take me home,” she said softly.

“No,” Hengist shook his head vigorously.  “Can’ do that.  Wouldn’t do.  Men would think ‘m goin’ soft, for one.  Won’t follow a soft raid leader.  And tha’s not all.  Wan’ you stay with me.  In time, maybe, you come to care for me, maybe jus’ a little.”

Doubtful, she thought, but said nothing.

Hengist set the candle on the floor.  He looked up blearily at her, then around the room once.  His head sagged.  He snored.

Mabinne slowly, quietly, picked up the candle lamp.  She looked once at the door, the big Northman snoring away in front of it, and the jacket he wore that surely contained the door’s key somewhere in a pocket.

Outside she could hear the bustle of Port Stronghold, even at the late hour – a strange city, a foreign city, where she knew no one, about which she knew nothing.

She shook her head.  Turning back to the bed, she blew out the candle, wrapped up in one of the quilts and went peacefully to sleep.

She was wakened by the sound of the key in the lock.  She stretched and yawned, sat up and looked around.  Hengist was gone, but the round table bore a wooden platter holding a couple of skewers of meat, still steaming from the stove, and a mug of some aromatic tea.  She got up, combed her hair out again, breakfasted – the tea seemed to contain some combination of sage leaves and juniper – and then, with nothing better to do, sat by one of the windows and watched the people on the street below.

Outside it looked to be a fine, sunny day.  Mabinne was mildly surprised at the variety of people on the street below; not just the tall, fair Ikslunders but also short, swarthy Jutelanders, ruddy, black-haired Mondrians, even a couple of dark, curly-haired Ashlanders.  Clearly the reputation of the great northern city as a center of trade had spread far.

The time wore on slowly.  Midday was approaching by the time Mabinne heard the key turn in the lock again; she turned to see Hengist burst into the room, a broad grin on his face.

The big Ikslunder shook a huge leather purse at her.  Mabinne heard the distinctive dull clink of gold coins, apparently a good many of them.  Hengist laughed.  “It’s been a fine, profitable summer, my sweet,” he said.  Since the previous evening, “Sweet” seemed to have become his chosen name for her.  “Trade hereabouts is brisk this year.  Come, now, get on your traveling boots and gather up your things – here, I brought you a satchel for your new clothes.”  He tossed her a heavy leather pack with a single strap.  “My horses and wagon are out front.  I’ve already bought provisions for the trip home.  Pack up, and we’ll be off.”

The sight of Hengist’s transport lent some credence to his claims of being well-off.  The horses were a fine matched pair of dapple-gray geldings, large, heavy-footed, and shaggy, as most of the northern horses seemed to be.  The wagon was stout if not fancy, made of fine, close-grained wood, four-wheeled, with a heavy leather tarp stretched over wooden bows covering the cargo area and the bench where the driver and passenger were to sit.

As they climbed into the wagon, Hengist gestured at the beasts.  “The one on the left, Toothbreaker, he’s a lively one; I have him saddle-broken as well as to the cart, but he’s feisty and can be difficult even for me.  Buttercup, the fellow on the right, now he’s gentle as a sheep.”  He gathered up the reins, shook them and clucked.  The horses started off at a walk.

“Do you ride?”  Hengist asked, gesturing at the horses.

“No,” Mabinne answered.

“I’ll teach you.  You’ll enjoy it.  Perhaps you’d enjoy a hunt in the fall.  We hunt elk, bison, sometimes a mammoth.  It’s very exciting.”

“I’m sure it is.”  Hengist seemed oddly anxious to interest her in something.  An odd man, that feels some need to please a slave, she reflected.

The sheer size of Port Stronghold, along with the many people on the streets, meant that it took most of the morning just to get to one of the city’s western gates.  A farm girl by birth and inclination, Mabinne had trouble adjusting to the stench of a city and was glad to pass through the gates in the massive wall into the clean air of the countryside.

Hengist seemed content to let the afternoon pass in silence.  Not long after leaving the city he handed the reins to Mabinne with a murmured “if you would, sweet, just for a moment.”  He disappeared into the back of the wagon and returned bearing two small pies, with thick golden crusts and rich fillings of meat, gravy, and vegetables.  He took the reins back and ate heartily – and silently.

Mabinne tried her pie and was surprised to find it delicious, savory, with just enough salt and some other, unidentifiable spice to add to the flavor of the meat without overwhelming it; she hadn’t expected culinary subtlety from Ikslund.

As the afternoon moved on towards evening, Mabinne began to grow nervous.  Hengist remained uncharacteristically silent, but she noticed him watching her with a speculative air – and she hadn’t failed to notice the bundles of furs in the back of the covered wagon that clearly served as a bed.

Well, I suppose it must happen sometime.  He’s made no bones about his intention.

She giggled suddenly at her own silent innuendo.  Hengist looked at her with a raised eyebrow, but she just shook her head.

As the sun was growing low in the sky, Hengist pointed to a grassy meadow with a lone of trees along one edge.  “There’s a creek there,” he said.  “Good clean water nearby, level ground and a fire pit.  Far enough from the road to be out of the dust.  We’ll stay there tonight.”

“As you wish” Mabinne said in a low voice.

Building the fire and eating their evening meal – some kind of coarse, unleavened bread and cured pork – seemed to take only moments.  And then, Hengist suddenly stood, still brushing crumbs from his beard, and motioned towards the wagon.  “To bed, sweet,” he said, his tone gentle but still somehow conveying an order.  “I want an early start tomorrow.”

Mabinne nodded.  Hengist extended a hand to help her into the wagon, but she grasped the tailboard and climbed aboard herself.  Hengist shrugged and followed.

Inside the covered portion of the wagon, it was already good and dark.  Hengist removed his boots, so Mabinne did likewise.

Hengist spread out a rough pad made of coarse cloth that seemed to be stuffed with grass, then laid a spread made of wolf pelts over it.  He lay down on it and pulled up another huge bison robe as a cover.

“Here, sweet,” he murmured, motioning at the space next to him.

There was nothing else for it.  Before climbing into the wagon, Mabinne had gone into the trees on the pretext of making water before sleep; she had left loose the drawstring that held her leggings about her waist.

She lay down, her back to the Northman.  Hengist drew the bison robe over them both, then moved close, an arm around Mabinne’s waist.

He lay still for a moment.  Mabinne could feel part of him moving, at least; he was rising, growing hard against her backside.

With a silent sigh, she pulled her leggings off, arched her back against Hengist and opened her legs to allow him.

Hengist entered her slowly from behind, thrusting slowly at first, then more rapidly; he reached under her tunic to fondle her breasts.

Tolerate it, Mabinne told herself.  My own husband even used to… no, no!  Don’t think of him.  Not now.

Hengist seemed to go on forever, but finally he shuddered and came.

“You see, my sweet,” he breathed into her ear.  “Not so bad.  You’ll grow to enjoy me as I do you, I’m sure of it.”  He rolled onto his back and quickly began to snore.

Mabinne wiped herself with a rag that lay in the wagon, replaced her leggings, and rolled over to sleep.  The big Northman hadn’t kindled even a spark of feeling in her.  She hadn’t expected he would.