A tale of two vikings, p.1
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       A Tale of Two Vikings, p.1

           Sandra Hill
 
A Tale of Two Vikings


  * * *

  A TALE OF TWO VIKINGS

  By

  Sandra Hill

  * * *

  Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Epilogue

  * * *

  AS TEMPTING AS SIN

  "How can you be so hot when the air is so cold?" she blurted out.

  "Mayhap I am hot for you."

  "What a sinful thing to say!" she exclaimed with a gasp.

  " 'Tis human nature. Even your Adam and Eve felt the same, I warrant."

  She needed to change the subject before she did something scandalous, like lick the cleft in his chin. "I asked you why you would help me. You are evading the subject, methinks."

  "Perchance I am just a noble fellow."

  She made a snorting sound of disbelief.

  "Or perchance I have ulterior motives for my offer," he said huskily. "Perchance I want something from you."

  The glint in his blue eyes spelled danger to her… she just knew it did. Still she blundered on, like a lamb before the wolf. "I have naught to give," she said, just as huskily.

  "Oh yea, you do, m'lady." His voice was whisper soft and tempting as sin.

  He leaned forward then, his lips brushing lightly across hers. She heard a soft moan, and was not sure if it came from her or him. She wanted more. God help her, she wanted more. Sensing her acquiescence, the rogue kissed her again, but this time he really kissed her.

  When he finally drew away from her slightly, he smiled. "I never kissed a nun afore."

  "I never kissed a Viking afore."

  "A first for each of us then." He waggled his eyebrows at her as if to convey that there was much more to come…

  * * *

  Has an eye for the ladies. loves a good fight. Splits his sides over rude jokes. Won't ask directions no matter how lost he is… even in a longship, for the love of Odin!

  Sound like anyone you know? Maybe even every man you know?

  Toste and Vagn Ivarsson are all that and more—a lot more. Identical Viking twins, they came squalling into this world together, rode their first horses at the age of seven, their first maids during their thirteenth summer, and rode off on longships as untried fourteen-year-old warriors. And now, having seen only thirty and one winters, they are about to face Valhalla together. Or maybe something even more tragic: being separated. For even the most virile Viking must eventually leave his best buddy behind and do battle with that most fearsome of all opponents—the love of his life.

  www.dorchesterpub.com

  * * *

  Other books by Sandra Hill:

  THE VERY VIRILE VIKING

  MY FAIR VIKING

  THE BLUE VIKING

  TRULY, MADLY VIKING

  THE LOVE POTION

  THE LAST VIKING

  FRANKLY, MY DEAR…

  THE TARNISHED LADY

  THE BEWITCHED VIKING

  THE RELUCTANT VIKING

  LOVE ME TENDER

  THE OUTLAW VIKING

  SWEETER SAVAGE LOVE

  DESPERADO

  * * *

  A TALE OF

  TWO VIKINGS

  SANDRA HILL

  LEISURE BOOKS

  NEW YORK CITY

  A LEISURE BOOK®

  * * *

  May 2004

  Published by

  Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.

  200 Madison Avenue

  New York, NY 10016

  Copyright © 2004 by Sandra Hill

  ISBN 0-8439-5158-3

  The name "Leisure Books" and the stylized "L" with design are trademarks of Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.

  Printed in the United States of America.

  Visit us on the web at www.dorchesterpub.com.

  * * *

  This book is dedicated with much love and appreciation to my good friend, Trish Jensen. Not only is she a good writer who helps me make my books better, but she also teaches me so much about friendship and caring and loyalty. And what she doesn't know about romantic humor would fill the head of a pin. A wise person once said that we remember best the friends with whom we have laughed and cried. How true! Thanks, Trish.

  And to Ross Bennett, her significant other and my knight in shining computer. I cannot tell you how many times Ross has saved the literary life of this electronic klutz. Thanks, Ross.

  * * *

  A TALE OF

  TWO VIKINGS

  * * *

  Friend I was with the Lord of Spears;

  Trusting I was, and kept my faith.

  But now the All-Father, God of Battle,

  Has turned his face away from me…

  —Egil's Saga from Sonatorrek

  * * *

  Prologue

  ^ »

  Double the trouble, Viking style...

  Toste and Vagn Ivarsson did everything together.

  They came squalling into this world from the same womb together, bare minutes apart.

  They suckled from the breasts of the same wet nurse when their mother died in the birthing.

  They were weaned and privy trained at the same time.

  They invented their own language—words and body expressions that only they could understand.

  They rode their first horses at the age of seven, rode their first maids on Friggs Day of their thirteenth summer, and rode off on longships to go a-Viking as untried fourteen-year-old warriors.

  They'd been inseparable till their ninth year when their father, Jarl Ivar Thorsson, who considered twins an unnatural happenstance, came up with the lackwit notion that they would mature best apart. He sent them, kicking and screaming, to opposite reaches of the Norselands for fostering. That lasted a total of three intolerable months afore both were sent home by exasperated Norse chieftains.

  Because of their identical appearance, except for a clover-shaped birthmark on Toste's inner thigh, they constantly traded places, to the chagrin of comrades and maids aplenty.

  Their father eventually outlawed them from his Vestfold realm on the same day, over the selfsame piddling incident—piddling to them, leastways. Vagn, in a fit of meadhead madness, had referred to their older brother Arne as "Mother's Baby, Father's Maybe," and Toste had piped in with a comment that Arne much resembled a trader called Leif Lousebeard who came into the area on occasion.

  They never wed, some said, because they could not bear to be apart from each other. Bolthor the Skald once described them as: Fair of face and form; fierce in the bed furs; even fiercer in battle; quick to wit; loyal to a fault.

  In essence, Toste and Vagn were as one.

  But, alas and alack, Toste and Vagn, having seen only thirty and one winters, were about to die together.

  * * *

  Chapter One

  « ^ »

  Land of the Saxons, A.D. 964

  A-marching they did go, a-marching they did go… uh-oh…

  Toste Ivarsson slid in the soft earth and almost fell on his arse, to the amusement of the many warriors who surrounded him on their trek through Saxon hell.

  "Remind me again why we are trudging about in scratchsome chain sherts over padded leather tunics, all that covered with wet fur pelts, carrying heavy shields and swords and battle-axes, during a hailstorm, smack down the middle of enemy lands, like bloody game pigeons?" Ping, ping, ping—the icy
pellets kept hitting the metal armor and weapons of the soldiers in the bird, creating an irksome din—just as irksome, Toste hoped, as the pellets of his grumbles directed in an endless tirade at his equally irksome brother, Vagn. "And the odor! Two hundred men who have not bathed in a fortnight—phew! 'Tis said that women of all nations favor us Viking men because we are so handsome, but mainly because we bathe more often than the average fellow. Well, they would change their tune quick as spit if they got a whiff of this aromatic bunch. I'm thinking of putting a pincher on the nose guard of my helmet to cut out the foul body aromas."

  To his frustration, Vagn's response was to whistle. For the love of Thor! Whistling in the midst of this… this… sure-to-be wasted effort! The lackwit! No church pillage is worth this time and inconvenience. My toes feel like icicles. By the gods, I would love to be sitting afore a hot hearth, feet propped up, nursing a horn of mulled ale.

  "I was bored," Vagn answered cheerily, even though he was equally laden with battle gear, and led an ancient warhorse named Clod he had won the night before in a game of bnefatafl. The destrier, made skittish by the pelting ice, was one of the few horses on the field today. Most of the soldiers preferred to walk the short distance to the monastery… which was turning out to be not so short a distance, after all.

  It was a rare peaceable time in Britain. King Edgar, being only twenty and one years old and busy fornicating with every female who crossed his path, was heavily under the influence of Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, whom he'd brought back from exile. While Edgar sinned, Dunstan built more monasteries for his king's penance. A good bargain, in Toste's opinion.

  Toste reacted to Vagn's remark. "Bored! Why could we not have wrestled a bear, like we did last time you got bored? Why could we not have dug for amber or hunted whales in the Baltics? Why could we not have gone horse buying in the Saracen lands? Why could we not have drunk a tun of mead and slept the ale-head away all winter long? Why could we not have spent a sennight and more in a talented harlot's bed furs?"

  "Together?" Vagn asked.

  How like him to home in on the last and most irrelevant of my suggestions! Toste snorted with disgust. "We have tried it together more than once, as you well know, but we were half-brained youthlings then. Now, I much prefer to do my own plowing, thank you very much." He regretted the words the minute they slipped from his mouth.

  "Mayhap you are getting old," Vagn commented, as if he were not the same advanced age of thirty and one years. "Almost a graybeard you are. For a certainty, I saw a wild hair growing in your ear yestereve when you were retching your guts over the ship's rail into the stormy sea. Up and down, up and down, up and down, our boat followed the path of the roaring waves. Ne'er have I seen a man vomit so much."

  "In the midst of that sea-gale, you noticed a single hair in my ear?" Toste arched his frosty brows in disbelief. At the same time, he swiped a forearm across his forehead to wipe away moisture from the melting hail.

  "Yea, I did… and, come to think on it, there was one in your nose, too. Women do not like such misplaced hairs, you know. Dost want me to pluck it out for you?"

  Toste made a coarse observation about "plucking" and jabbed Vagn in the upper arm with an elbow for his deviltry, Toste's hands being full of weapons.

  His brother just grinned and danced away.

  The hail began to die down and was replaced with sleet, which in turn created a mire of mud underfoot. What a miserable day! If they didn't soon find this monastery, he was going to turn on his heel and head back to the ship, blessed booty be damned!

  Then, ignoring Vagn's flummery, he commenced afresh his earlier diatribe. " 'Tis all your fault. 'Twas you who convinced me that we should join the Jomsvikings, and look where it has landed us." They were surrounded on all sides by Viking warriors intent on plunder or battle, or whatever they faced ahead—way too far from the four longships anchored near shore. "A bloodthirstier lot I have ne'er met than this mercenary band, including our chieftain. I swear, Sigvaldi would hew down his mother if she sneezed the wrong way. And, by the by, you failed to inform me that no women were permitted at the Jomsviking fortress at Trellenborg. 'Tis a year since we joined this troop of noble warriors. Nobility is one thing, celibacy is another. Not what I envisioned, I'll tell you that." It was not the first time Toste had voiced this particular complaint to his brother.

  "Methinks you have lost the adventuresome spirit, brother. To go a-Viking is a way of life for us Norsemen. 'Tis what men do when the crops are harvested and high-winter has not yet icebound our longships." Vagn shrugged as if there were naught more to say on the subject. Norsemen would be Norsemen, was Vagn's simple philosophy. Toste thought Vagn had finished blathering, but then he added more of his non-wisdom, "A dollop of celibacy hones a man's appetite. Makes him a more self-disciplined fellow."

  "Hah! More like a wallop—as in overabundance—of celibacy hones a man's randiness and makes him nigh beastly when he finally lands betwixt soft thighs. The monkish life is not for me."

  "Me, neither," Vagn admitted. "Shall we go home?" A dozen hailstones lay in Vagn's as yet unhelmeted, dark blond hair. Water rivulets ran down his face in muddy streaks. He looked absolutely ridiculous, and absolutely endearing, at the same time. Toste loved his brother more than himself.

  Choking back the emotion that clogged his throat, he asked, "Home? What home? Oh, nay, you surely do not suggest we hang tail and return to our father's estates in the Norselands? He outlawed us—his own sons."

  "He would take us back," Vagn said softly.

  "Mayhap, if we would agree to his never-ending demands: Stop being so frivolous. Fight in his army, which is always at war with one minor Norse king or another, or one Saxon thegn or another. Bend knee to our two scurrilous older brothers, who are heirs to the jarldom… not that I would want to take on that mantle. Wed a noble wench of Father's choke. Make public apology for past misdeeds. Need I remind you of the Helga the Homely incident? Or Ingrid Hairy Chin?"

  "Groveling would be required, of a certainty. And much kissing of arse," Vagn pointed out with a wince. Neither of them were ever much good at groveling. "But we are older now, Toste. Being landless knights no longer holds appeal. Perchance settling down with a wife and family would not be the worst thing in the world. Our friend Rurik seems happy enough in that role. And, of a certainty, there is not much attraction anymore in raiding greedy clerics of their gold crucifixes and ruby-encrusted chalices. We have wealth enough, both of us."

  His brother's words surprised Toste, mainly because they mirrored his own thinking of late. But that had been the pattern their entire lives. They always thought alike, having the same tastes and dislikes, even feeling each other's pain and joy on occasion.

  Toste shifted the halberd—a long-handled spear/battle-ax—in his right hand to its leather shoulder strap and used his free arm to wrap his brother's shoulder and squeeze tightly. In a voice choked with deep sentiment, he said, "This will be our last battle, then. We will go home to make peace with our father and establish our own families and estates."

  "Can our estates border one another?" Vagn asked.

  "I would have it no other way."

  They smiled warmly at each other, glad to have made a long-overdue decision.

  "That reminds me of a saga I have been writing," Bolthor the Skald—also known as Bolthor the World's Worst Skald—said as he huffed up behind them. Bolthor was a giant of a man, still well muscled from fighting, even at forty and more years, but he had lost one eye at the Battle of Brunanburh some twenty years ago. It was a liability for a soldier. Still, he'd insisted on coming with them to join the Jomsvikings. Or more likely, his former leaders, Tykir in the Norse lands, and Rurik in the land of the Scots, had sicced him on them, having endured more than enough sorry sagas relating the intimacies and foibles of their lives. Either way, they were stuck with the good-hearted behemoth poet. "The saga could be called 'The Lost Vikings.'"

  "Uh, mayhap later," Toste said quickly, noticing a dream
y look passing over Bolthor's face which usually portended a vile poem about to spew forth.

  "We are not lost, Bolthor," Vagn pointed out. The fool! Did he not know that it was unwise to encourage the skald in any way? Vagn waved a hand to indicate the vast number of Jomsviking warriors traveling with them. "Surely, we cannot all be lost."

  "I did not mean the entire bird of soldiers was lost. Just you two."

  "Oh," Vagn said, still clearly confused.

  But then Toste made a mistake as foolish as his brother's. He remarked to Bolthor, "I thought you always started your sagas with 'good' in the introduction. Like 'This is the saga of Tykir the Good.' Or, 'This is the saga of 'Rurik the Greater.' "

  "Hmmm. You are right, Toste," Bolthor said, biting his bottom lip with worry. Well, leastways they had time to escape his presence whilst he pondered the dilemma.

  Toste and Vagn began to walk faster, but Bolthor yelled at their backs, "Wait! I have the solution." With a groan, Toste and Vagn were forced by politeness to stand and listen. "This is the saga of Toste and Vagn, the best Viking twin warriors in all the Norse lands."

  "That limits our area of greatness, does it not?" Vagn whispered for Toste's ears only. "How many Viking twin warriors do you think there are?"

  "I pray thee, Bragi, god of eloquence, to bless me this day," Bolthor continued, his one good eye raised skyward. Then to Toste and Vagn he said, "Methinks a good title would be 'Twin Vikings Who Lost Their Way.' "

 
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