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My Fair Viking
MY FAIR VIKING

Leisure Books
April 2002
ISBN-10: 0843949848
ISBN-13: 978-0843949841

Note: This ediion is out of print, but was reissued January 2011 under THE VIKING'S CAPTIVE by Avon Books

CHAPTER ONE

Hawkshire, Northumbria, A.D. 962

"With all due respect, Master Adam, you need a harem."

"No harems, Rashid."

"Just one."

"Not even one."

"Dancing girls?"

"Nay!"

"A Nubian concubine?"

"Nay!"

"Triplets from Cordoba who could give a man thrice the pleasure?"

"Nay, nay, nay!"

"Hmpfh! The male species was not intended to live this way.   Truly, I do not understand how you can be contented to live as a...a...hermit. 'Tis unnatural."

"No harems," Adam repeated.

Rashid muttered one of his usual proverbs...in this case, "Even paradise is no fun without people." With a grunt of disgust, he gave up, for the moment, and returned to his work.

Adam, on the other hand, stared off into space, realizing with some amazement that he actually was a contented man, just as his faithful assistant had inferred. That intuition came to him with such suddenness that Adam, rather stunned, set his quill down, and smiled to himself. For a man of thirty and two years, the insight should not be of such importance, but it was, considering the tragedies in his life these past few years. In all the misery and grief--and, yes, self-pity--peace had somehow crept up on him. Mayhap his inner wounds were finally healing.

But wasn't that an irony in itself...that a man who had been renowned for his adventuresome spirit, wicked sense of humor, and wanton ways now took great comfort in contentment? It was a gray-beard's word. Next he would be calling for a hot posset and a cane.

Before he had a chance to catch himself, Adam sighed aloud.

"There are harems, and then there are harems," offered Rashid, misinterpreting his sigh. Rashid, a loyal friend, had accompanied him back from the Arab lands two years ago when tragedy had summoned him home. "I'm especially fond of women who can dance the Ritual of the Veils. Or those who are double™jointed. Or those with an ample set of buttocks. Or those with breasts like pomegranates. Or those--"

"Pfff!" was Adam's only response.

Rashid's biggest, and ongoing, complaint about the Saxon lands was its dearth of women...especially talented women. He was of the firm conviction that the answer to any male difficulty could be found between the thighs of a comely woman, with or without talents, and he did not mind sharing that conviction with one and all. 'Twas best to ignore him betimes.

Adam picked his quill back up, dipped it in the ink pot's treacly encaustum, and resumed scratching on the parchment pages of his herb journal. In some ways, this two-year respite from medical practice had helped Adam become a better doctor. He was assimilating all his thoughts and research from the past ten years or more and putting them on parchment.

Some physicians studied medicine in terms of the human body, head to toe. Others believed in the theory of humours...that everything that happened to the body was related to bile, blood, phlegm or water. Mostly, Adam had come to believe that there was so much more he did not know about the body than what he did know; so, he limited his studies to herbs and their medicinal uses. Even then, it was so complicated. The same plants grown in different geographical areas displayed different properties.  The time of year an herb was picked could be important. And, of course, the roots, seeds, leaves, spores, pollen and flowers all served different purposes...not to mention how they were preserved or prepared.

Rashid continued to fill small pottery containers with propolis, the reddish resin produced by honey bees. Adam's step-aunt-by-marriage, Eadyth, one of England's most famous beekeepers, had sent him a goodly supply last sennight. He used the base substance as a balm in treating wounds, while scenting the rest with lavender, rose and sandalwood for gifting on occasion to his women friends. It was an excellent unguent for softening hands and other body parts. Not that he had all that many women "friends" of late. Actually, Adam also used honey as a dressing for wounds, or as a cleansing agent for wounds when mixed with salt.

He and Rashid worked in companionable silence in the round tower room which overlooked the courtyard. Its eighteen arrow slit windows gave more light for his studies than any other chamber in this dreary keep. While many men measured their wealth in gold and land, Adam prized the rare books which filled a shelf on the far wall. An amazing six in all. Few kings had as many. They were worth a fortune. Bald's Leechbook, Pliny the Elder's Natural History, Hippocrates' medical observations, the works of Galen, surgeon to the Roman gladiators, the revered Arab doctor, Rhazes, and, of course, his step-mother Rain's journal.

The books had been translated from their original languages into English, most often by monks, but ofttimes by Adam himself, who was fluent in five tongues. Except for Rain's journal...the one he consulted most...which had been in English to begin with.

There was valuable information in all the books, but much to be scoffed at, as well, such as Pliny's advice to eat a mouse a day to prevent tooth decay.

"If this lowly servant could be so bold," Rashid broke the silence, "a harem could be just the spark you need to fire up your life again."

By the rood! Is Rashid still on that selfsame subject?  "A harem? A harem in the Saxon lands? I'd like to see that.  Better yet, my dour-faced neighbors, far-distant as they are, would love to see that."

"You could start a trend. Lucky for you, I know just where to gather a harem."

"I'd wager a camel's hump you do, you conniving scoundrel."

"In Baghdad."

"Aaaahhh! So that's where this conversation is headed...as always. Home to the desert."

"Truly, it is past time that we return to the warmer climes, oh, wise one."

Rashid always threw in "oh, wise one" when he wanted something from him. His machinations were transparent as Lady Eadyth's wispy beekeeping garments.

"It is so cold and damp in this land that I swear I found mold betwixt my toes this morn. And there was frost on my nose, yea, there was, and it is only September. Mayhap you could take up the sultan's offer of a small palace in Cairo in return for becoming his personal physician. And, of course, there would be a harem." Rashid smiled widely, as if he'd just spouted some really tempting message.

Adam glanced up from his work to see if he was serious.

He was.

"I do not need a woman. I sure as bloody hell do not need a harem. And how many times do I have to tell you, I am not your master, Rashid?"

"As you say, master."

"And we are not going back to the Eastlands anytime soon."

Rashid scowled at being thwarted, but then tried a different tact, "A thousand pardons, master. Perchance you would not be so ill-tempered if your body humours were leveled out. Everyone knows that a man must empty his sacred vessel on occasion lest the biles rise in his body."

Adam shook his head at Rashid's persistence. He had a fair idea of what "sacred vessel" Rashid referred to, but, being a physician, he had to ask, "Which biles would those be?"

Rashid brightened, no doubt thinking that he was making some progress. He wasn't. "The biles that create dark moods."

"Rashid," he said with a weary exhale, "I am not in a dark mood...especially not a dark mood caused by sexual deprivation."

"Hah! You are always in a dark mood. The grooves betwixt your eyebrows have become a permanent fixture. You have set aside your fine apparel. The coins you earned on one battlefield or another have been stored away, along with the treasures given for your great medical achievements. And this home you inherited from your adoptive father Selik is certainly dark and gloomy," he said, waving a hand at their surroundings. "There is no gaiety in your life. What you need is gaiety."

Adam's lips twitched with suppressed mirth. "And that gaiety would come from...let me guess...a harem?"

"I knew you would agree with me." Rashid puffed his chest out with self-satisfaction.

"I do not agree with you. Stop being unreasonable."

Rashid unpuffed his chest. "You could start small, with one or two females. That would be reasonable. You wouldn't need to have a full harem right away. You've heard of that famous Arab proverb regarding harems, haven't you?"

"The one which says, `If there is no nubile female about, a camel will suffice.'?"

"For shame!" Rashid exclaimed, but his lips were fighting a grin, too. "Nay, I refer to the one which says, `A man's staff needs constant polishing.'"

Adam shook his head with amusement.

Rashid's dark-skinned face turned somber. He put a hand on
Adam's shoulder. "In all seriousness, my lord, I worry about you. You have become a recluse here in your own land. You do not mix in society. You make no attempt to refurbish your keep so that others may visit. Most worrisome of all, you continue to refuse treatment for the ill and dying who come seeking your healing skills."

Adam should have been affronted. Rashid went too far, for a servant. But then, he was not really a servant. He was a friend. And Adam had given him good cause to worry.

Adam squeezed Rashid's hand on his shoulder and motioned for him to move to the other side of the table where work awaited him. "I'm getting better, Rashid. Really, I am. I know I have been morbid overlong, but--"

Rashid made a snorting sound of commentary on just how morbid he had been of late.

"--but I have been thinking of establishing a small hospitium in that old weaving shed near the moat. What think you of that?"

Rashid gave him a look that said, without words, that he would have been much more impressed if he'd said he was thinking of establishing a harem...even in the old weaving shed.

"I knew you could not walk away from medicine permanently," Rashid said. "Why else would you maintain your studies? Why else would you continue to gather herbs? Why else would you correspond with healers of other lands? You may call yourself
knight or land owner, traveler or hermit, but at heart you will always be a physician. Till the day you die. For the love of Allah, 'tis time you stopped fighting your fate."

Rashid's wise words did not require comment, but Adam did ponder all he had said. A long period of silence followed.

Adam worked with great concentration, writing in his journal. Rashid, giving up on his harem exhortations for the moment, sat on the bench across the table from him, looking for more work to do now that he was finished with the beeswax balm.  After years of noisy towns and battlefields, after the frustration of primitive medical limitations, after the turmoil of personal tragedies, after so much death...well, the familiar, peaceful sounds of his quill scratching on parchment and Rashid's pestle now moving rhythmically against fragrant herbs in a stone bowl were oddly soothing.

Alas, their solitude was broken of a sudden.

"CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!" they heard, accompanied by huffing-puffing noises and a few muttered expletives. There was also the neighing of horses and the rhythmic clatter of shod hooves on wood, probably the drawbridge planks.

He and Rashid turned as one with surprise toward the windows which looked out over the bailey, then toward the open doorway which led down to the great hall. The sounds seemed to emanate from somebody, or somebodies, stomping through the courtyard and up the steps to his keep.

"Did you forget to pull up the drawbridge?" Adam asked sardonically.

"Ha, ha, ha! May Allah be laughing at your marvelous wit,"  Rashid answered back. He, Rashid, the cook, a chambermaid and a stableboy were the only people living in this cavernous wood castle. There was nothing worth stealing. And the drawbridge was rusted into a down position, as they both well knew. "No one ever comes to this desolate place. You live like a hermit."

"You already said that."

"Some things bear repeating."

"Not that."

"Mayhap it is your step-uncle, Lord Eirik, returning with yet another invitation to spend the coming Harvest season at Ravenshire."

Adam peered out through one of the arrow slit windows.  "Nay, these men appear to be Viking soldiers, hesirs, by their attire and weapons." Although Eirik was half-Viking, he had long ago adopted Saxon ways, including manner of dress.

"Your other step-uncle, Tykir, then? He is a full-blooded Viking, is he not?"

Adam shook his head. "Tykir is Norseman to the bone, but he would not venture past the bounds of Dragonstead in Norway...not at this time of year...not with his lady, Alinor, breeding yet again...at the advanced age of five and thirty, no less."

Adam shrugged with unconcern. They had naught to fear here,
living in such sparse conditions. Even so, they both grabbed short swords lying nearby and made for the doorway.

"CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! Huff, puff, huff, puff. Bloody damn hell!" The noises made by their intruders were getting louder as they climbed the steps. He heard a female screech of dismay...probably Emma, the cook. No, there were two female  screeches, combined. It must be Emma and Bridget, the chambermaid. By the timbre of their screams, you'd think a dragon had entered his keep.

The huffing-puffing, the clanging, and the expletives he understood immediately. After all, there were thirty-seven steep, stone steps leading up from the bailey to the double doors of the great hall. He knew because he'd counted them on innumerable occasions and cursed fluently in several languages, especially when he was suffering from the mead-head.

Adam and Rashid were making their way down the interior stairway when Adam stopped abruptly at the bottom, incredulous at the sight he beheld. Rashid slammed into his back.

"Oh...my...God!" he muttered.

"For...the...love...of...Allah!" Rashid muttered.

They were standing next to each other by now, gaping at the other side of the great hall where a small entourage of Viking warriors stood, broadswords drawn and battle axes at the ready.

They were a fearsome group of fighting men, massive in height and breadth, clad in furs and armor, wielding weapons that could cleave a grown man from head to groin with a flick of the wrist.   That's what had caused Emma and Bridget to scream, no doubt; both women stood leaning against a nearby wall, fanning themselves with their aprons.

"May God help us!" Adam exhorted.

"Hah! I prefer the proverbial wisdom, `Call on your God, but avoid men with sharp blades.'"

In truth, these hesirs did not frighten Adam, his words speaking more of surprise than fear. Even though he was Saxon by birth, he and his sister Adela had grown up in a Norse household from a young age. Nay, that's not what had caused Adam and Rashid to go slack-jawed with amazement. It was the leader of the Norse troop that drew their attention. No apologies offered for entering his estates, without invitation or welcome. No lowering of weapons. No explanations. Tossing aside a full-length, midnight blue, wool cloak lined in gray sable, the Norse chieftain stood before them, arrogant and proud.

It was a woman.

A woman warrior.

A sudden thought occurred to Adam and he turned on his assistant. "Rashid! You didn't! Surely, this is a coarse jest, even for you."

"Me? What have I done?" Rashid slapped a palm over his heart, as if suffering some great insult.

"The harem nonsense," Adam reminded him. "A short time ago, you urged me to start a harem, and now this," he said, indicating the female Amazon who had resumed her bold approach toward him, followed closely by a dozen soldiers. The woman even walked like a man, in an exaggerated, swaggering, lumbering sort of way.

"Are you mad? That...that man-woman is not what I would consider for a harem." Rashid practically sputtered with indignation.

"What then? A Valkyrie?" He'd heard the tales of the legendary female gods who led brave warriors to the afterworld.

"That is no Valkyrie," Rashid asserted. "That man-woman is live and human...I would swear it on Muhammad's grave."

As the group got closer, Adam got his first good look at the woman through the hazy, dust-moted light provided by the open doors and meager arrow slit windows. And he had to agree with Rashid's assessment. This was no goddess, come from the other world. She was flesh and blood...and definitely woman.

The oddest thing happened then. Fine hairs stood out all over Adam's body. His heart stopped beating for a second, then raced wildly. Most remarkable, a surge of energy slammed into his loins, pumping hot blood into the region, and settling  there, thick and pulsing. Like the drawbridge, he'd thought his manpart was rusted down. He was wrong.

She was tall, for a female. In fact, Adam was very tall himself and he had only a half-head on her. Despite being slender, she was well-muscled, as any soldier would be. The short-sleeved tunic she wore, belted at a narrow waist, left bare her arms which bore etched silver armlets over well-defined muscles in her upper arms. Even her forearms displayed the raised tendons and ropey muscles of a swordsman. Exceedingly long legs were encased in skin-tight, soft hide leggings which also showed delineations of musculature...no doubt from long hours atop a warhorse.

That image--female legs spread wide, the rhythmic up and down canter of the horse pressing against her womanplace--caused the throb in his manhood to intensify. Bloody hell! It feels as if I have a heartbeat there.

She must have been wearing flexible chain mail because he could see its hem beneath the thigh-high tunic, and because it molded her body in such a way that her breasts were upthrust and extended against the fabric of her tunic. From a distance, she may have resembled a man-woman, as Rashid had referred to her but up close she was all woman, in Adam's opinion.

To his utter shock, the woman did the most outlandish thing.  She scratched at her groin...like men were wont to do. He could swear she did it deliberately, to reinforce the notion that she was a manly woman, or mayhap just to startle them, especially since she seemed to be watching one of her companions and belatedly mimicking his actions. Repulsed as he was at the crude gesture by a female, his manpart knew no better...it still throbbed.

Two years without a woman, and the first one that arouses me is wearing chain mail...and scratching at her groin. Some  celestial being must have a twisted sense of humor.

Who is she?

The richness of the jewel-brooched garments and gold-studded belt she wore, along with the silver-scabbarded weapons, bespoke a personage of high rank. He thought he knew all the families of Viking nobility, but this one did not strike a memory chord.

Even as he stared at her with rude hospitality, the woman pulled the fitted leather helmet off her head, causing thick, pale blonde braids to fall out, then cascade loose from their leather ties into what could only be described as skeins of golden thread.

He gasped.

And throbbed some more. Good thing he wore the loose Arab robe he favored when in his own home, lest he embarrass himself.

Under his breath, Rashid murmured in Arabic, "On the other hand..."

Adam arched an eyebrow in question.

"On the other hand, yon man-woman might make a magnificent harem houri. Dost think she would consent to pierced bells on her breasts?"

"Shhhhh," Adam cautioned, then added, also in Arabic, "It would be more likely she would pierce your balls with bells, my friend. This is no tame desert damsel who aims to please her
master."

Eyes of cerulean blue pierced them both, almost as if she understood their words. Her men snickered under their collective breaths.

"Which of you is the healer?" she asked, speaking for the first time.

Her voice was deep and husky, but not at all manlike. Nay, Adam could imagine its grainy tone whispering wicked things to a man when they were both stoked to passion. He could imagine it suggesting ways to cure the pleasure-pain that continued to envelop his loins. He could imagine--

"Well?" she interrupted his reverie. "Enough time have I wasted, traipsing across this wretched land. Which of you is the healer I have been searching for?"

He and Rashid exchanged a long look, not sure if either of them wanted to be the subject of her search. Finally, Adam admitted, "I was...am...Adam the Healer."

Rashid piped in, "And I am Ibn Rashid al Mustafa. Your humble servant." He performed a peculiar obsequious bow native to his country then, involving the rapid touching of his forehead, nose, mouth and heart.

"I have been trained as a physician," Adam continued, "but I no longer treat patients. Perchance, I could recommend another doctor for you...there are several monk healers in St. Peter's ministerium at Jorvik. What exactly is your problem?"

"It's not my problem that causes me to seek you out," she explained, the whole while motioning with hand gestures to Emma and Bridget that they provide drink for her men who were sitting down at the long trestle tables. Adam should have been embarrassed at not offering the hospitality himself, but he was too confused by this woman and her mission. "'Tis my father, King Thorvald of Stoneheim, who needs your help. He is gravely ill of an unknown malady. Dost know of him?"

Adam shook his head slowly.

"He is called Thorvald the Wolf."

"Aaaah. Now I recall. His kingdom is in far northern Norway...Halogaland." Adam's step-uncle Tykir lived in Dragonstead, which was located at the end of beyond in Norway.  Men had body parts frozen off there if they were careless enough to venture outdoors overlong during the winter months. Stoneheim was even farther north in the most primitive, mountainous area...a land nigh uninhabitable.

She nodded. "How long will it take you to pack your medicinal supplies?"

"I beg your pardon, m'lady...I mean..." he paused meaningfully, not knowing her name. If this woman, magnificent as she is, thinks I am going anywhere near the frigid mountains of that godforsaken section of Norway, she is sadly mistaken.

"Tyra. Tyra Sigrundottir. Tyra, Cub of the Wolf. Tyra First Child. Tyra the Blonde. Tyra Brave One." She shrugged as
if to say she would answer to any of those appellations.

"Or Tyra Warrior Princess," he offered, half in jest.

To his surprise, she agreed, "That, too." And she didn't even smile as she said it. Of a certainty, the woman was full of herself, and lacking in humor.

But her ego was of no consequence. He, and an important part of his body, thought she was glorious. Especially since she had not scratched herself again...thanks be to God! If she belched or did something else of a distasteful masculine nature, he might just cry with disappointment.

"In any case, Tyra, I regret to inform you that I cannot help your father. I have not practiced the healing arts the past few years. When, or if, I resume treating patients again, it will be here in Britain. My traveling days are over. Under no circumstances would I be willing to go so far."

She made a scoffing noise, low and not intended to be heard.  "I do not recall asking you to come. You will come, of that there is no question."

He raised himself to his full height, which was more than considerable, and fixed her with a glower. "I will not."

Tyra rolled her eyes as if to say, "Here we go again!"

Some of her men sniggered and began to talk amongst themselves. He understood the Norse tongue perfectly. These sea pirates were placing bets...against him in this battle of wills.

"Uh-oh," Rashid said and danced quickly away from his side.

Adam's glance wavered briefly. In that instant when he  looked to Rashid to see what the problem was, then glanced back, he saw that the demented woman had her broadsword raised high above her head and was lowering it. Toward him, of all things. He had no time to duck aside. The flat side of her sword hit him on the crown, causing him to see stars and his knees to buckle.

The warrior princess bent over him in the rushes, admonishing, "See what you made me do, you dumb dolt!"

He was a dumb dolt, because all he could think about was the magnificent set of breasts which were jutting out above his face.

Just before the blackness overtook him, the most amazing thing of all happened. She picked him up--she actually picked him up--and tossed him over her shoulder.

It appeared he was going to Norway, after all.

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