914 A.D. East Anglia under the Danelaw.
Half breed Dane, Ragnar Long Reach, does his best to fit in with his kinfolk, but always feels like an outcast. When he meets the English Aelfwyn, also spurned by her clan, sparks fly and they begin a passionate affair. She is promised to another man, however, and forbidden to consort with Danes.
When her betrothed is murdered, Ragnar is the obvious suspect. Did he commit the crime, or is he just a pawn in someone else’s game?
Setting off for the well, Aelfwyn dreamed in her own world. What she and Ragnar had done seemed strange, but what pleasurable strangeness. She knew something happened between a man and a woman to produce a child, and seeing the beasts rutting, she half understood. She hadn’t known of other pleasures, though.
As she reached the well, a familiar figure waited. Her heart beat faster at the sight of copper hair, red cloak, long legs in grey trousers and leg bindings. Ragnar sat on the wall, waiting for her.
She blushed so hotly her face must surely be on fire.
“Is your sister not with you today?” He looked behind her.
“No, she is ill. Is Bjarni not with you?”
“No. He had to help Steinar with-something-I forget—”
They gazed at each other for a few seconds, then he leapt forward and drew her to him, kissing her face, her neck, pushing her head-rail off to stroke her hair. If only she could give in right then, as each kiss weakened her resolve.
A familiar voice approached, chattering in the background, obviously on the way to the well. Aelfwyn tore her lips from him.
“It’s Geatfleda. She’ll tell all if she sees us,” she hissed.
Ragnar leant back into the bushes behind the wall, breaking the twigs with his weight and pulling her with him until they were completely hidden, giggling and excited. Branches poked them in all places, but they hushed each other, provoking more giggles. He took his cloak off and folded it up so the red would not be seen.
“It’s not right, associating with Danes,” said Geatfleda to her companion. “She spends all her time with them, shunning her own people.”
Aelfwyn sat up to listen, an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach despite Ragnar kissing her neck. She sat on his lap and he curled his body round her.
“Instead of settling down with a sensible English man, she runs around with that Dane all the time. People are talking and she will come to a bad end.” A clanking noise of pails reached them as Geatfleda filled them with water.
“Is she talking about me?” hissed Aelfwyn.
“Mm?” Ragnar ran his tongue down her neck to her shoulder, making her quiver.
“If she’s talking about me, my parents will be so angry. They will be the disgrace of the village...”
“Mm.” He stretched her dress open at the neck so he could kiss further down her breast, his hair tickling her until she giggled and trembled, her whole body heating up.
“They say she has married this Dane,” continued Geatfleda. “In a secret ceremony without her parents’ knowledge. Mark my words, this can only lead to trouble.”
“Married?” Aelfwyn sat up and pushed Ragnar backwards.
“What was that?” snapped Geatfleda.
Aelfwyn and Ragnar froze. The harder they tried not to giggle, the more they wanted to.
After a few minutes, Geatfleda resumed talking.
“Must have been a bird. We’d better go, there’s always work to do.” The noise of footsteps and conversation slowly grew quieter.
“So it wasn’t you and me they were talking about. Another English woman has consorted with a Dane, and married him.”