was the odor that first pulled Ruby from her deep sleep--human body odor. "Okay,
Ruby, baby," she muttered to herself. "Go with the flow." Sense-dimensional
dreams! That would be something to tell her therapist--if she ever got one.
Ruby opened her eyes lazily, then shut them quickly in horror. When she peeked out
again, she realized she must still be asleep, awash in the most realistic dream she's ever
had. About a dozen wretched-looking people, wearing bizarre, drab clothing, like burlap
sacks, crowded her in a long boat, which moved swiftly toward shore. By the smell of them,
they hadn't bathed in weeks.
Ruby wrinkled her nose in distaste and edged away from one toothless harridan, who
resembled her flaky cleaning lady Rhoda. She giggled aloud. Imagine! The dream of a
century and she got to take her cleaning lady along. Some women got handsome actors like
Kevin Costner in their fantasies with his preference for "long, slow, deep, soft, wet
kisses that last three days" in Bull Durham; she got Rhoda. How would Rhoda
survive without her tabloids?
"M'God, be you a boy ur a girl?" the Rhoda person exclaimed.
Ruby realized then that everyone in the boat was staring at her--as if she were
the oddball. Ruby looked down at herself. She saw nothing unusual in her Nike-clad feet,
her blue jeans and her son's oversized Brass Balls Saloon T-shirt. Oh, that was probably
the problem. The T-shirt logo offended some people.
She started to explain that her shirt really belonged to her fifteen-year-old son
Eddie who had bought it at the shore without her permission, but stopped herself. Really!
She didn't have to defend herself in a dream.
Ruby smoothed the fabric of her shirt over her slim waist and hips, then jerked
alert. Slim! Dear Lord, she hadn't been this thin since before her first pregnancy.
Not that she was ever fat, but this kind of body tone came with youth, not childbirth and
thirty-eight years of easy living.
Ruby discreetly lifted the edge of her T-shirt, peeled away the loose waistband of
her jeans and peeked at her skin just above her navel. Hallelujah! No more stretch
marks! Her wish had come true. She was twenty years younger.
Smiling widely, Ruby looked back over her shoulder...then gasped. Three
Viking-style dragonships rode at anchor on the sunny horizon of what appeared to be the
confluence of two huge rivers. Hundreds of other ships stretched along the shore or headed
in or out of the wider river which must lead to the sea. She hadn't seen anything so
spectacular since the Tall Ships event held on the Hudson River in New York years ago.
They were magnificent.
A loud thud caused her to turn forward. Their boat had hit the dock and was being
tied ashore. Hundreds of people swarmed on the wharf, all dressed in strange
Some of the men wore short tunics that barely reached their knees and left their
arms bare, while others wore plain, collarless, long-sleeved shirts down to their hips
over tight pants. Belts, ranging from leather thongs to ornate gold chains, cinched in
their waists. Short swords and scabbarded knives clanged at their sides.
Long, pinafore-type tunics, mostly open-sided, covered the women's pleated linen
chemises which trailed on the ground in the back. Ornate brooches, with dangling keys or
scissors or small knives, fastened the tunics together at the shoulders.
Ruby noticed an inordinate amount of blond hair sparkling in the afternoon
sunlight, from almost-white to fire-red and all the colors in-between. The older women
knotted their hair at the back of the neck and covered it with scarves or cloth
headdresses, while others braided their long tresses or let them lay loose down their
backs. The men's hair hung shoulder-length and longer, often in braids, too, framing faces
that ranged from clean-shaven to heavily bearded and mustached.
Finely wrought, heavy wrist and arm bracelets of solid gold or silver, studded
with jewels, adorned the better-dressed men and women. Some appeared to be museum-quality
Fascinated, Ruby asked Rhoda, who still eyed her suspiciously. "Where
"Jorvik. Where's that?"
"To Saxons it be Eoforwic, but the heathen Vikings calls it Jorvik. Be
you a slave?"
Puzzled, Ruby said, "Huh?" She then mulled Rhoda's words. Jorvik?
Something clicked in her mind. Hadn't she read recently about an archaeological dig there,
something involving Vikings? Suddenly, remembrance jolted her.
"Oh, my God! You mean York, like in England And those boats out there--are
those Viking ships?"
Rhoda just stared at her, open-mouthed. Then a crazy thought entered her mind. At
first, she dismissed it, but then asked tentatively, "What year is this?"
Now Rhoda really did look at her as if she'd escaped from a looney bin. "Nine
hundred 'n twenty-five. You bin locked up fer a long time ur sumpin? A dungeon, mebbe? Ur
a nunnery, I wager? The nuns do be barmy sum times. I heared onct 'bout a girl who liked
men too much and her mother put her in a convent an' she went stark ravin' mad jus' cuz no
man touched her in a year."
Good Lord! Rhoda didn't need her tabloids, after all. Even in these primitive
times she found sources for the sensational gossip she loved.
Ruby started to laugh hysterically, just corroborating Rhoda's mental-illness
assumption about her. What a dream this was turning out to be! Why couldn't she dream
about cowboys or knights in shining armor Why conjure up Vikings in a pre- Medieval
England Well, what else did she expect, the way her life was going?
She couldn't wait to get back and tell Jack his "Mind Over Matter" tapes
really did work. Wait. She forgot. Jack wouldn't be there when she returned. Would
A brutal headache began to throb behind her eyes, especially when a giant of a
man, who smelled like a bear she'd once whiffed at a zoo, pulled her and her companions
out of the boat and shoved them roughly into a group at one side of the wharf.
"Hey," she protested loudly. "Watch it, buster!" The rest of
her motley group looked aghast at her temerity, as if she were even more daft than they'd
thought. The Goliath glared down at her.
"What's your name?" Ruby persisted, sputtering with indignation.
"I'm going to report you to your...supervisor."
"Olaf," he snarled and gave her another rude shove.
"Olaf. That figures. The name matches the face."
Rhoda pulled her back and cautioned, "Shhhh! Ain'tcha afeared? Do ya wanna
Then Ruby saw Jack.
Oh, his brownish-blonde hair had lightened and hung down to his shoulders, and his
black tunic covered a younger, more powerful body--one that would put Arnold
Schwarzzenegger to shame--but the face was definitely that of the man she'd been sleeping
next to for the past twenty years. Thank God! This dream business got stale quick. She
wanted to wake up.
At the same time, Ruby's heart thudded wildly at this first glimpse of her
husband's new golden, hard body. She felt like a breathless girl of eighteen again.
"Jack," Ruby called out happily, while Rhoda tried to hold her back. The
dolt! He ignored her. He was mad at her, of course. Hadn't he just walked out of their
He seemed to have arrived on one of the big ships, and the attention he aroused
indicated that he was a man of importance. When he stopped to talk to someone, Ruby
realized that his right arm encircled the shoulders of a buxom, blond
"Vikingess" in a green silk tunic with enough gold and jewels at her neck and
arms to ransom a king.
Ruby's initial hurt turned quickly into jealousy and then a white-hot anger.
Furious, Ruby yelled, "Jack" again, but he still looked the other way. Lying
pond scum! He'd said there was no other woman.
"Two-timing, sonofa...," Ruby muttered on a sob, breaking away from
Rhoda and Olaf to approach Jack. She'd show him. She picked up a clump of mud the size of
a cantaloupe, took careful aim and hurled the clod, hitting him square in the face. She
smiled widely in satisfaction. She hadn't been an ace softball pitcher in high school for
The tall figure swiveled, azure eyes wide with shock, but before he could react,
Ruby pointed a finger at his stunned companion and warned, "Stay away from my husband
if you know what's good for you."
Looking as if she'd seen a ghost, the wide-eyed woman backed away, slipped in the
mud and fell flat on her rear.
Ruby laughed at the comical picture until Olaf came up behind her, lifted her off
the ground with massive arms wrapped around her like steel bars and squeezed until she
thought her ribs would crack.
"Put me down, you oaf," Ruby shrieked. Then she turned to her husband,
demanding, "Jack, tell this goon to put me down. He's hurting me."
"Not Oaf. Olaf," the giant corrected Ruby.
Ruby grimaced with impatience and looked up over her shoulder. "Put me down, Oaf."
He reacted by lifting her higher in the air, as if she weighed no more than a
Jack studied her icily, his jaw clenched with suppressed violence. He slowly wiped
the mud from his face with a square of linen cloth. His girlfriend wailed loudly at this
side until one of his companions reached over with a burly arm and cuffed her into
A deathly quiet surrounded Ruby. The crowd stopped all activity to watch the
Well, okay, maybe she shouldn't have hit him, especially in a public place, but he
had no right to look at her so angrily. After all, he was the one in the wrong. Adultery
was adultery-- even in a dream.
With a commanding air, the Viking walked purposefully over to where Olaf still
held her with feet dangling off the ground. His well-developed, massive body moved with an
easy grace, not unlike her own modern-day husband. Standing so close she caught the
familiar masculine scent of his skin, Jack extended a questioning forefinger to lift her
chin in a whisper of a caress. Ruby leaned into his stroke reflexively, but then jerked
back at the sensual shock that shot hot flames through her. Jack's furrowed brows and
intense, puzzled eyes told Ruby without words that he, too, had been affected by the
simple touch. The very air around them seemed electrified.
But then anger transformed Jack's face. She soon found out why. Taking her chin in
a painful, viselike grip, Jack snarled, "What manner of fool are you, boy, that you
dare to strike Thork, son of Harald, high-king of all Norway?"
Boy? He thought she was a boy, Ruby realized. No wonder he was upset by the
sexual chemistry between them. Well, compared to the way these people dressed she supposed
she might look like a young male in her pants and short Sassoon haircut. And, hey, wasn't
Jack aiming high these days--son of a bloody king? Should she bow or what?
"Who are you?" Jack growled again, bruising her chin with his fingers.
"Do you spy for Ivar?"
"Ivar? Who the hell is Ivar?"
"You dare much with your coarse tongue, boy."
"Jack, don't you recognize me? I'm Ruby...your wife."
"Nay, no wife have I," he declared in a steely voice, shifting
indignantly from foot to foot. "Nor am I a sodomite," he added distastefully,
looking at what he obviously considered her masculine attire. Then he released her chin
and cocked her head in puzzlement.
What now? she wondered. Was it something she'd said?
Olaf let her slide down his body to her feet, but he pulled her arms behind her
back and pinioned them there. Jack stared at the inscription on her chest and his eyes
widened. That stupid Brass Balls logo again!
Jack reached out a hand. His forefingers trailed sensuously over her bare arm as
if asking a question, then grazed her quivering lips for affirmation. He smiled wickedly
and nodded, as if answering his own question, at the same time pleased with the goose
bumps he'd raised on her flesh with a mere touch.
Then her husband did the unthinkable. He reached out with lightning swiftness and
outlined the tips of her breasts. He actually touched her breasts in front of all those
people! She'd kill him for humiliating her. Outraged, Ruby tried to squirm out of Olaf's
"Thor's blood! 'Tis a wench," Jack exclaimed, turning with a grin to his
companions for confirmation.
"No kidding! This has gone far enough, Jack. Tell this bozo to release me.
This joke...or dream...or whatever it is has gone far enough. I want to go
"Explain this `jack' you speak of."
"It's your name, Jack. Jack Jordan. And I'm your wife, Ruby. And I'm tired of
this stupid dream."
Tears choked her. Why was Jack acting like this? Ruby squeezed her eyes shut
tight. She would have pinched her own cheeks, but Olaf still held her arms behind her
back; instead, she bit her bottom lip until she tasted blood, hoping to awaken herself
from the nightmare.
It didn't work.
Some members of the crowd stepped closer, staring in amazement at her bloody lip
as if she were truly crazy. She was crazy! Only a crazy person would find herself
in this situation. Perhaps Jack's leaving her had pushed her over the edge.
"Nay, my name is Thork," the Jack clone said. "Heed me well. No
wife have I, nor ever want one. I am a Jomsviking." Jack's deep voice rang coldly,
loud and clear, through the crowd, which nodded and smiled in approval at his putting this
woman in her place.
The people spoke an odd mixture of what sounded like Medieval Anglo-Saxon she'd
once heard in an English Lit course and what was probably Old Norse. The languages were
very similar. Strangely, she could understand both. Not so strange for a dream, she
Before Ruby could respond to Jack's astounding pronouncement, he stepped closer
and his forefinger traced the letters on her shirt. He said the words aloud slowly,
"Brass Balls," looked questioningly at a man standing next to him, then back at
her and grinned, apparently understanding what the words symbolized. Several men chuckled
behind him. However, his amusement turned to anger again.
"So...you carry a message to us from Ivar this his men have superior male
parts made of metal?" He spoke loud enough for all the people to hear. Good Lord!
She'd landed in some kind of Bedlam.
"Know you the male parts of Ivar's men from experience, wench?" he
"Shut up, Jack. You're embarrassing me."
He took hold of her sore chin and squeezed, looking her directly in the eye.
"Thork. Mark my words well, wench. My name is Thork."
Ruby whimpered in pain, but still he didn't relent.
When she refused, he squeezed harder, and Ruby gasped out, "Thork, you jerk!
"`Jerk' best be a title of respect," he warned.
"Oh, yes, it means something like `lord and master.'"
unconvinced but, nevertheless, released her chin and addressed the mob. "Ivar send
the boy-woman to challenge us, methinks. Yea, he taunts us to war again. Bad enough he
raids our lands whilst we are gone a-Viking or trading. Now he sends this insulting
message. Brass balls! Hah! Shall we show Ivar now and forever who the best men
A roar rose like thunder through the crowd. Good grief! Who ever heard of a
T-shirt causing a war? Ruby tried to express her opinion on their mistaken notions, but
Olaf clamped a smelly palm over her mouth. She stomped on his soft leather shoes, and, to
her chagrin, he didn't budge an inch. Looking over her shoulder, she saw his smirk as he
stated with smug self- satisfaction, " Not Oaf. Olaf."
Maybe the guy wasn't as dumb as she'd thought.
"We must bring this spy to King Sigtrygg," Thork said. "Let him
decide the fate of the thrall and whether or not we go to war with Ivar." Another
roar of approval went through the crowd.
"Now ya done it," Rhoda whispered in her ear. "Sigtrygg One- Eye be
a mean buzzard. Prob'ly lop off yer head. Or pluck out yer eyes. Or--"
"Give me a break, Rhoda. You've been reading too many tabloids
"Come, thrall," Jack commanded. "The other slaves stay."
"Just who do you think you're calling a thrall?" Ruby protested, finally
squirming out of the giant's grasp. "I'm no more a slave than...than you
Jack had the gall to grin down at her. He was really enjoying her discomfort. Then
he surprised her by putting a protective arm around her shoulder and saying, "Hold
your tongue if you have a fondness for your fair head, sweetling. This crowd smells
Sweetling! Ruby smiled, hopeful for the first time that day of a possible
reconciliation between her and Jack.