915 A.D. East Anglia under the Danelaw
When Danish warrior Bjarni’s impulsive marriage to the English Saehild starts falling apart, they both look for comfort elsewhere. He befriends a slave woman, while his wife falls under the spell of a mysterious loner. But how are their new companions associated with the elusive murderers who are terrifying the villagers?
When Bjarni returned home after dark, the women were not there. Saehild must be out revelling again. He avoided thinking about her, because he didn’t want his scar to start aching again. Thinking about Ifay soothed him, but where was she? After fidgeting around for a while, he went out again to search for her. Where the hell would she be at this time in the evening? Had he scared her off? Had she run away?
Why did he care what happened to a slave anyway? As time drew on though, and Hallby villagers scurried past, following advice and hastening home, he became more and more worried.
She wouldn’t have left the village, would she? He walked up to the gate but the guards stopped him.
“Why are you going out at this time?” asked one.
“Someone might be lost out there.”
“Let me out, please. I’ll take responsibility.”
He pushed past them, something telling him he’d find her near the wood.
A crouching figure caught his eye as he approached the trees, their branches swishing and hissing in the wind. It was Ifay, struggling to pick up twigs spread on the floor.
“You stupid woman! What are you doing out after dark?” he scolded, grabbing handfuls of sticks and shoving them into her bundle.
“The fire was going out. We needed these.”
“But it’s dangerous out here at night.”
A wolf howled in the distance so he took the bundle and grabbed her arm, hustling her along.
“What will my punishment be?” she mumbled.
“Don’t talk, just walk.”
The wolf howled again, closer and Bjarni speeded up his pace, holding the awkward package of sticks against him.
They reached the village and the guards dragged them inside, slamming the gate behind them.
No one was around, all houses shut up for the night, small chinks of light showing through shuttered windows, then a fox gave an unearthly shriek, making Bjarni and Ifay jump. At last their home loomed into sight, and Bjarni unlatched the door and pushed Ifay through it, so quickly they both tripped. He fell on top of her, wriggling to try and pull the door shut at the same time.
“What are you doing?” she gasped.
“Trying to get inside,” he panted.
“Get inside? Inside what?” She squirmed away from him, eyes wide.
“Inside the house of course. Not inside—anything else.” He couldn’t help eyeing her body beneath him.
“You are just the same as all men, don’t deny it. You just want sex.” She pushed him away and crawled to the chair, then stood up and brushed dirt off her dress.
“By Odin’s eye!” he shouted, sitting up. “I was just trying to get us to safety, not trying to fuck you! I just tripped!”
He stormed off towards the other side of the hut.