A TALE OF TWO VIKINGS
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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
They suckled from the breasts of the same wetnurse when their mother died in the
They were weaned and privy trained at the same time.
They invented their own language...words and body expressions that only they could
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
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 exiled them, kicking and screaming, to opposite
reaches of the Norselands for fostering. That lasted a total of three intolerable months
afore both had been sent home by exasperated Norse chieftains.
Because of their identical appearance, right down to the cleft in their chins,
except for a clover-shaped birthmark on Toste's inner thigh, they constantly changed
places, to the chagrin of comrades and maids aplenty.
Their father outlawed them ten years ago 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 who
came into the area on occasion called Leif Lousebeard.
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 alak, Toste and Vagn, having seen only thirty and one winters, were
about to die together.
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 battleaxes, during a hail storm, 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 hird, 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
"I was bored," Vagn answered cheerily, even though he was equally laden
with battle gear, and led an ancient war horse named Clod he had won the night before in a
game of hnefatafl. The destrier, made skittish by the pelting ice, was one of the
few horses on the field today, most of the soldiers preferring 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 wise points! 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."
Toste had not yet grown blunt of fang, as his teasing brother implied. 'Twas just
his brother's teasing way. "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 the 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
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 be 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 heels 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 the shore. "A blood thirstier 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." This 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 was 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
"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 hail
stones lay in Vagn's as yet unhelmeted, dark blonde hair, held back off his face with
beaded war braids. Water rivulets ran down his face in muddy streaks. He looked absolutely
ridiculous, and absolutely endearing, at the same time. He was his brother, and Toste
loved him more than himself.
Choking back the emotion which 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
grab-lands war with one minor Norse king or another, or one Saxon thegn or
another. Bend knee to our two older, scurrilous brothers, who are heirs to the
jarldom...not that I would want to take on that mantle. Wed a noble wench of Father's
choice. Make public apology for past misdeeds. Need I remind you of the Helga the
Homely incident? Or Ingrid Hairy Chin?"
"Groveling would be required, for 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. Thinking 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/battleaxe--in his right hand to
its leather shoulder strap and used his free arm to wrap around 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 each other's?" 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 for fighting, even at forty and more
years, but he had lost one eye at the Battle of Brunanburh more than twenty years ago. Not
a good credential 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 like barnacles on a sea-going longboat. "The saga could
be called, `The Lost Vikings.'"
"Uh, mayhap later," Toste said quickly, noticing the dream mood 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
"I did not mean the entire hird of soldiers was lost. Just you
"Oh," Vagn said, still clearly confused.
But then, Toste made a mistake, as equally foolish as his brother's. He remarked
to Bolthor, "I thought you always started your sagas with `good' in the
introductions. Like, `This is the saga of Tykir the Good.' Or this is the saga of `Rurik
"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
Toste and Vagn began to walk faster, but Bolthor yelled to their backs,
"Wait! I have the solution." With a groan, he 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 in an
aside for Toste's ears only. "How many Viking twin warriors do you think there
"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'."
"Huh?" he and Vagn said at the same time.
"Once were two twins from the Norse lands,
Who thought they were best at all things.
Running, racing, fighting, swordplay...
Flirting, swiving, flirting, swiving...
Laughing all the time, changing places,
Till was unclear who was who...
And whether there be any point to their lives.
But, by the by, age came upon them finally...
A turning in the road men face in middle years.
They began to question the meaning of life,
Which destiny-path to follow,
Whether to replicate themselves by breeding,
Why they were born.
A crossroads in their lives, for a certainty...
The question is: Will they choose the safer path,
Or will they jump head-first into wedlock,
And forevermore question how they landed there?
Toste and Vagn glanced at each other, stunned speechless. Where did Bolthor
come up with this stuff? And how did he manage to hit so close to the truth? More
important, they needed to find some other Viking needful of his own personal skald.
"Very good, Bolthor," Vagn said, not wishing to insult the skald.
"Yea, very good," Toste agreed. Now, go plague someone else with
"Now, go plague someone else with your sagas," Vagn said, not nearly as
sensitive as Toste. He apparently had no compunction about hurting Bolthor's feelings. But
there was no need for worry in that regard because the insult passed right by Bolthor who
brightened and said, "Yea, methinks Sigvaldi is in need of a good comeuppance...I
mean, saga. Hey, that can be a new name for a certain type of poem...a
comeuppance-saga." Bolthor rushed forward to tell the chieftain his good news.
He and Vagn smiled at each other, but not for long.
Up ahead, someone shouted a warning, "Ambush! Ambush! We are surrounded by
Immediately, the two hundred-man horde of Viking warriors scurried for cover, of
which there was almost none in the shallow valley in which they'd been traveling.
Meanwhile, hundreds and hundreds of Saxon soldiers emerged on the rim of the small hills
surrounding them, much like a bowl with an opening on two opposite sides. Despite their
surprise and being vastly out-numbered, the Viking brothers-in-arms soon prepared
themselves skillfully for battle with weapons drawn.
Usually, Norsemen preferred the Svinfylkja, better known as the
"Swine Wedge," a triangular assault formation with the point facing the enemy,
or a "shield wall," with a tight mass of warriors surrounding the chieftain.
There was no time for those tactics now; Saxons hemmed them in on three sides, including
the exitway out of the valley. A blizzard of arrows showered forth from the bowmen, even
as the Saxon foot army advanced toward them.
All around him, Toste heard war cries raised by his enraged comrades. Sometimes,
just wild whoops, or savage roars of fury. Other times, specific exhortations were called
out: "To the Death!" "Luck in Battle!" "Mark Them With Your
Toste did not love to fight as some men did, but he would rather be the crow than
the carrion, and he had no intention of breaking the raven's fast this day. He raised his
broadsword in an arc as a burly Saxon soldier approached him, spear raised with menace.
Toste aimed for the "fat line," that section of the body from neck to groin
where most vital organs were located. He sliced the man cross-ways from shoulder to waist
before the spear ever left his hand. Wide-eyed with horror, the man, already spewing forth
blood from his mouth, fell in a heap at Toste's feet. "Good aim, brother!" Vagn
yelled out to him, while Toste sparred, sword to sword, with another foeman. Next, Toste
crouched low and lunged his short sword into a fat Saxon belly. With a grunt of surrender,
the Saxon fell to his back, his eyes rolled back into his head, and he died.
For the next half hour or so, thick fighting ensued, and there was no time to look
around. Having the advantage of surprise, the Saxons cleft through the Norse ranks like
sheaves of wheat. Oh, the Viking soldiers displayed great skill and stamina...lords of
swordplay, to be sure...but they could not withstand such a larger force. No matter how
many of the enemy he slew, no matter how weapon-skillful he was, another always stepped in
his place. It was hopeless, Toste began to realize. The ringing of swords, the screams of
the wounded in their death throes, the neighing of frightened horses including Clod, the
inhuman growls of the berserkers...all of these combined to turn Toste dizzy with terror.
The battle was not yet over; even so, the carnage was horrific on both sides.
In his peripheral vision, in the middle of the fray, he noticed Bolthor, rendered
weaponless, lower his head and charge at a menacing Saxon with a crossbow aimed his way.
Knocking the bowman to his back like a head-butting goat, he then proceeded to strangle
him with his bare hands. After that, he saw Bolthor pick up a Saxon broadsword and lop off
a man's head, as neatly as slicing a sausage. Without skipping a beat, Bolthor then took a
young Saxon's face between his massive hands and crushed his skull like a walnut. About
them, the stench of sword dew was overpowering.
Shaking his head to clear it of the fuzziness that assailed him momentarily, Toste
became instantly unsettled. An odd prickling tingled at the back of his neck. Vagn.
Where is Vagn? Scanning the field, he located Vagn a considerable distance away. They
must have become separated some time ago in the melee.
As if in slowed motion, Toste watched helplessly as a Saxon long sword pierced his
brother's chain shert, into his chest, then all the way through his back,
directly through his heart. There was blood everywhere...on his face, his body, at his
feet...a pool of blood.
Toste's eyes connected with Vagn's in that unusual way they had of sensing each
other's presence. Vagn screamed out to him, mentally, "TOOOSSSTTTEEE!" Several
quick hand gestures in the silent language he and Vagn had developed from a young age
spelled out, "Farewell, brother. I have loved thee well." Then Vagn sank to his
knees, both hands clutching at the sword which his attacker--a huge man with bright red
hair and a livid scar running from crown to chin, thus splitting his nose--was attempting
to pull out with one booted foot braced on Vagn's shoulder. Once the Saxon removed the
sword from Vagn's chest, he stood over him, grinning. With hysterical irrelevance, Toste
noticed the bright silver eagle embossed on the villain's shield. Vagn was still alive,
but barely. His attacker laughed and left Vagn for dead...obviously wanting him to die a
A black mist came over Toste and he literally went berserk for the first time in
his life. Baring his teeth with savage fury, he howled with rage, then fought his way
toward his brother. But, alas, while he battled valiantly, hewing down foemen right and
left in his path, he had no protection at his back. He knew he was in trouble by the
expression of alarm on Vagn's face...alarm for him, not himself. When Toste felt the
violent impact of a weapon against his skull, he fell to his knees, just as his brother
had. But, nay, Vagn was lying on his back now, eyes closed.
Dead! His brother was dead. How would he be able to bear the loss?
Toste thought all this as unconsciousness overcame him. He laughed inwardly as another
thought came to him. He would not have to grieve over his brother's death because he was
probably dying himself. In truth, the prospect of life without Vagn held no appeal.
Ah, well, he had never wished for a straw death. No Viking wanted to die in his
sleep upon the rushes. Still, he would have liked to discuss this happenstance with his
brother afore they entered the afterlife.
Will we meet this day in Valhalla? Or even in that Christian heaven? he
wondered. I hope so.
'Tis said that the Einberiar, the brave warriors killed in battle, just before
their death, see the flashing swords of the Valkyries. The helmeted maidens ride white
horses and escort the dead heroes to Valhalla, Odin's great mead hall in Asgard.
I cannot wait.
He died with a smile on his face then, envisioning the lovely virgin Valkyries who
would soon carry him off. Imagine Vagn's delight when we meet up in Valhalla with all
those untried wenches.
Yea, death might not be so very bad.
Sometimes girls (even nuns) just wanna have fun...
"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned," the young woman kneeling on the
hard wooden bench confessed. She shivered as she spoke with a foggy breath; it was damp
and chilly in the stone chapel of St. Anne's Abbey at the best of times, but in the middle
of November in Northumbria it was enough to turn one's blood to ice.
A groan emerged from the other side of the confessional screen. "Again?"
Father Alaric asked with a deep sigh. "You made your penance just this morn with all
the other novices. What sin could you possibly have committed in such a short time...in a
nunnery, of all things?"
"I blasphemed when I stepped in some droppings from Sister George's goat in
"The sacristy?" Father Alaric sputtered. "Really, those rescued
animals of Sister George's are getting beyond bothersome. It's nigh sacrilegious where
they show up."
"Wait till you see the five-legged piglet she brought in today. Methinks it
sleeps now in the baptismal font."
"What?" Father Alaric shrieked, then seemed to recall his setting.
"Back to your confession, child. Which bad word did you use?"
"Christ's toenails!" she answered matter of factly.
"Christ's toenails!" Father Alaric murmured under his breath, whether to
repeat her words or utter his own expletive was unclear. "Tsk, tsk, tsk! Using the
Lord's name in vain is unacceptable for a novice with a true vocation."
"'Tis difficult being good all the time," Esme complained. "Thou
shalt not swear." 'Tis hard not to swear when one is living in the midst of a
gaggle of fifty lackwit nuns and novices who produce beer to subsist. "Thou
shalt not be greedy." The person who thought that one up must never have experienced
the sparse purse of a convent. "Thou shalt not be slothful." Up before dawn, to
bed soon after dark, and not a second for dawdling that I've ever seen. "Thou shalt
not harbor unclean thoughts or deeds." As if I would know an unclean thought if I
stepped in it! I haven't seen a man worth salivating over in ten long years. "Thou
shalt not be noisesome. Well, all right, mayhap I do whistle on occasion, or sing
unmelodiously, or voice an unsolicited opinion or two. "Thou shalt not be
prideful." Yea, I take great pride in my sackcloth gown. "Hah! There
are so many shalt not's 'tis tedious keeping track of them all," she
concluded to the old priest, who continued to make the tsk-ing noises.
"Lady Esme, I am more and more inclined to believe you are not destined to
become a nun."
"I am not Lady Esme anymore...just Sister Esme."
"Not 'til you take your final vows, and it appears more and more likely that
might never happen," the priest said sternly, then immediately softened his voice and
added, "Be reasonable, Lady Esme. You have been here eleven winters...since your
thirteenth birthday...and you have not yet become a bride of Christ. Go home. Be a
biddable daughter. Marry. Have children."
"Tsk, tsk, tsk. Your pride will always be a boulder in your path to
"Nay, the only boulder in my path is my father. He wants me dead, or buried
in a convent."
"Lady Esme! Honor your father and mother; 'tis the first commandment of our
"He couldn't have known my father when he made that rule. Satan in
chain mail, that's what my father is."
She couldn't see clearly through the screen, but Esme would bet her beads that the
priest was praying and rolling his eyes heavenward.
"Enough!" Father Alaric said finally. "Go and sin no more, my
child. For your penance..."
Esme could guess what that would be. Another rosary said on her knees on the stone
floor of the second chapel. But, nay, this time Father Alaric had something different in
mind for her.
"Go with Mother Wilfreda and several of the good sisters to nearby Stone
Stone Valley? Why would he send me there? Didn't I hear of a battle taking
place there this morn?
"A mission of mercy. If it be God's will, you must perform a rescue...an act
of supreme compassion."
"Rescue? Who needs rescuing?" She thought he might mention some injured
monk or a Saxon soldier in need of care. Mother Wilfreda was a noted healer, and injured
wayfarers often traveled to the abbey for her care. But, nay, Father Alaric had something
entirely different, and totally unexpected, in mind.
Birds of a most unusual feather...
Toste lay on the cold ground of a Saxon battlefield waiting for the Valkyries to
come take him to Valhalla. He hoped it would be soon because his head felt as if a drum
were beating inside his brain, about to explode.
With great effort, he lifted his heavy eye lids and gazed upward. What he saw
scared him spitless, and he was not a man easily scared. He said something quite
embarrassing then...for a Viking, that is: "Eek!"
Five black crows stood in a circle about him...very large black crows. In fact,
they were the height of humans and they cackled in the Saxon tongue. They must be the
ravens of death. In the past, he had seen vultures hovering over battle fields waiting to
feast on the mortal carrion, but he'd never seen them up close; nor had he ever imagined
them being so big.
"He's awfully big," one of the crows said. "How will we carry
And what is wrong with big?
"Mayhap we could drag him over to our cart."
Birds have carts?
"Are you barmy? The man is half-dead. He would ne'er survive a
Good thinking. No dragging.
"Each of us could take a limb and lift him. Yea, that's the way."
Take a limb? Oh, bloody hell! They're going to dismember me and gnaw on my
"That would no doubt kill him."
For a certainty.
"He will probably die anyhow."
A little optimism wouldn't hurt, you know.
"He has nice hair. Not quite silver. Not quite gold."
What does the color of my hair matter? Dead is dead.
"Tsk-tsk-tsk! Who cares what color his hair is! Look at the muscles in his
shoulders and arms. He could probably pull a plow for us...if he survives."
What? What have the ravens of death to do with plows?
"He's a heathen," still another of the crows whined. "Why should we
save a heathen Viking?"
Well, actually, I've been baptized You could call me a heathen Christian.
Another crow, obviously the head crow, swatted the whining crow about the head.
"For shame! God shows his mercy to all men."
God? Uh-oh. Mayhap I'm not going to Valhalla after all.
That thought was reinforced when the crows lifted him unceremoniously off the
ground by his arms and legs. Pain shot through his body from his splitting skull through
his injured body--some Saxon bastard must have run a lance through my side, even after
I fell from the head blow--all the way down to his frozen toes, and he surrendered to
blissful unconsciousness. Hopefully, he would not wake up when the crows began to feast on
Is well-dangled the same as well-hung?...
"Well!" Esme remarked, as she gazed down at the fallen Viking, now
reclining on a hard pallet in a guest cell at the abbey. A roaring fire at her back
provided welcome warmth on this cold day. "Well, well, well!"
"Well, indeed!" concurred a flush-cheeked Sister Margaret, who swayed
slightly on her feet, tipsy from sampling her own latest batch of mead after their
grueling trip back from the battlefield. Margaret was the daughter of a famed Saxon ale
maker, and she'd brought her inherited talents with her to the convent. In truth, if it
weren't for the profits earned from the mead enterprise--aptly labeled Margaret's
Mead--the abbey would have been forced to close long ago. Esme's knack for growing
vegetables in the abbey gardens also helped them subsist.
But that was neither here nor there. More important for the moment was the
blonde-haired Norseman who lay blessedly unconscious before them...naked as a newborn
babe. Nay, that was not an accurate description. This man was no child. If he was, they
wouldn't be ogling him so. He had no apparent injuries other than a cracked skull, but
they'd had to check to make sure. Mother Wilfreda had performed her healing ablutions on
the man and left momentarily to get her chest of herbs.
"Well!" added Sister Mary Rose, a worldly nun who prided herself on
being sharp as a sword. She used to sell fake relics on the church steps of the Pope's own
monastery in Rome and still traded in the toenails of baby Jesus or Virgin Mary eyelashes
on occasion when the nunnery floundered in dire straits...which was often. "I have
seen many a man in my time, and I daresay this one is surely the fairest of them all. And
well-endowed, for a certainty."
Esme had no means of comparison, other than her five brothers, who were naught to
brag about, but she agreed wholeheartedly. That dangly manpart appeared large as far as
those things went.
All six of the nuns gathered in the small chamber kept staring at the dangly
manpart, except Sister Hildegard who harbored an ungodly fear of Vikings. She was saying
her beads and muttering something about heathen rapers and pillagers.
"I think it moved." The honey-scented Sister Ursula made that
observation. Sister Ursula was the resident beekeeper, which supplied the honey for mead
and the wax for church candles. Sister Ursula was slightly dim-sighted and she squinted at
the man's staff. The rest of them could see perfectly well, but they all leaned forward to
get a better view anyway. Esme detected no movement, despite a careful scrutiny.
"Whatever you do, don't touch it," Sister Stefana advised.
As if any of them had been contemplating such a loathsome idea!
"I have heard that it bursts forth into huge proportions upon being
touched," Sister Hildegard remarked. "On Vikings, it is a call to rape and
They all looked at Sister Hildegard, wondering if she knew what she spoke of. Her
hatred of all things Viking colored everything she said. But 'twas best to take no
chances...not that any of them contemplated touching such an ugly, wormlike appendage.
It was a wonder the Norseman hadn't died on the battle field, so severe was his
head wound. It was an even greater wonder that he'd survived their clumsy efforts in
carting him and another of his comrades back to the abbey on rutted roads. The greatest
wonder of all would be if he managed to outlive the fever which racked his body. A fine,
fine body, by the by, from beautifully sculpted facial features, including a cleft chin
and a full, sensual mouth, to wide shoulders and narrow waist and hips down to narrow,
high-arched feet...except for the repulsive manpart, of course, which was in no way fine,
to her way of thinking. There was an intriguing clover-shaped birthmark on his inner thigh
which drew their attention, too.
Mother Wilfreda clapped her hands sharply as she re-entered the chamber and
immediately threw a linen sheet over the naked body. Then she forced some herb-laden
posset through the man's parched lips. When she finished, she turned on the lot of them.
"Sisters! Have you naught better to do than stand about gaping at the man? Sister
Margaret and Sister Ursula, go down the hall and help Father Alaric with the other Viking
we rescued. The one-eyed giant had to be tied to his pallet to keep him from tossing off
the hot poultices, and what a job that was. Mary be blessed, the man must weigh as much as
a warhorse. Lady Esme, you stay here and watch over the soldier. If he should awaken, or
worsen, call for me at once. The rest of you, come with me to the chapel. We will pray for
the souls of these two men. The Good Lord placed them in our midst for a reason."
After that, Esme sat vigil over the handsome Viking for an hour and more,
wondering why the Good Lord would send a heathen Viking to a ragtag, mostly halfbrained
congregation of nuns.
What's a Viking to do when a medieval lady says, "Eat me"?...
Toste fought desperately to emerge from the ocean of unconsciousness which weighed
him down. He felt as if he was drowning in pain...mostly in his head, but also in his side
as well. How could the cool ocean waters turn his skin so blisteringly hot?
His heavy eyelids fluttered to half-mast, and he saw a small, sparsely decorated
chamber...not the battlefield. A cozy fire burned in the hearth, and the smell of beeswax
candles wafted in the air, but he saw no items of luxury. Hmmm. Did he die and this meager
dwelling was the much-lauded golden hall of Asgard? Nay, he must have survived his injury
and been moved to some other site. With great difficulty, he turned his head to the side
and noticed a woman sitting on a low stool to the right of his pallet, eyes downcast as
she studied some kind of beads in her lap. She was beautiful...nay, beyond
beautiful...with ebony silk hair held off her face with a black veil. Her facial features
were perfect...a straight nose, not too big, not too small, with a hint of an upward tilt.
Her skin was clear and creamy, like porcelain he'd seen once in the eastern market towns.
Her lips were rosebud pink...full and kiss-some.
What a thought to be having when I'm half-dead! A randy corpse. Ha, ha, ha!
Holy Thor, my brain is splintering apart here, and I make jokes with myself.
He must have made a grunting sound for she glanced up, her grayish-blue eyes wide
with concern. "You're awake," she stated.
"I should go get Mother Superior."
He put up a halting hand. "Wait," he squeaked.
All things came together in Toste's mind then, as he noticed her form,
indiscernible in a black robe which matched her black veil. She must be a nun, and those
black crows he'd thought he dreamed back on the battlefield...they must have been nuns,
too. Oddly, he felt a stab of regret that the beautiful woman had chosen the religious
life...and that he was not dead.
He tried several times to speak again--he had so many questions--but he
could not get the words to form in his confused brain. Finally, he gasped out, "Your
"Esme," she whispered.
"Eat me?" he repeated. 'Twas not the first time a woman had asked that
of him, but this woman was a nun, for the love of Frigg! Ah, well, he supposed even nuns
had carnal appetites. Mayhap especially so, if his experience with the celibate life was
any indication. "Mayhap later," he offered graciously. At the moment, he doubted
whether he could lift his head, let alone his tongue.
"Huh?" She gawked at him for several long moments before understanding
dawned. "Oh, you foul man! Why did we even bother to rescue you?" She looked as
if she might punch him, if he weren't already incapacitated.
Rescue? They rescued me? Hmmm. I wonder...could it be possible...oh, please,
Odin or God, I care not which it is...please let it be possible...
"Sister?" he inquired cautiously of the nun who was now wringing her hands with
distress, alternately staring at him and the open doorway, probably contemplating a run
for her life from a vile Viking man. Him.
"You may call me Lady...Lady Esme," she rebuked him
Aaah, so that was the reason for her ill-temper. He had misheard her name. He
tried to smile, but it was beyond the muscles of his face which were attached to the scalp
which felt as if it were torn in half, which it probably was. Vagn would get a good laugh
over his thinking "Eat me" when she'd said "Esme."
And that thought called him up short.
"M'lady, did the good nuns of this convent rescue more than one Viking this
She nodded slowly.
And gave him hope. Oh, please, Lord and Odin and every blessed god that might
exist, let Vagn be alive. Give me this boon and I will be good the rest of my life.
"One other," she elaborated.
I will do good deeds only. I will never swear...or only occasionally when
overly provoked. I will seduce no virgins...unless they beg me. I will rob no more
churches. "His name?"
"I know not. He is unconscious, as you have been. He is in another chamber,
down the corridor."
Just then, he heard a bellow of outrage. He would recognize that voice anywhere.
'Twas Bolthor...not his brother Vagn, as he had hoped. His spirits sunk...not that Bolthor
survived, but that his brother probably had not.
"Were there other Vikings rescued on the battlefield?"
"I think not. You and the giant were the only living men we saw, and Mother
Wilfreda made us look, believe you me. Ne'er have I seen so much blood and gore." She
must have noticed the horror on his face then, for she paused, then asked, "Was there
someone in particular you were concerned about?"
He gulped several times before nodding. "My brother," he whispered. Then
he did something entirely unexpected. He screamed, pouring out all the grief in his
pain-ridden body into one single word, "VAAAAAAAAGN!"
With that pathetic wail against the fates, he either succumbed to unconsciousness
again, or else he died. He hoped it was the latter because he honestly and truly yearned