2. A True Daughter of Freyja
2. A True Daughter of Freyja
Bjorn heard the short form of the story but they refrained from deep discussion until Wiglaf was among them. Now with the setting sun the skald had returned and Ulfric went to fetch his sister. Unlike Stormhold, Somershalla did not have separate wings for the men and womenfolk. He was able to go directly to his sister’s chamber without challenge.
Most Thane’s daughters, let alone princesses, would be flocked by a roving band of chambermaids and ladies-in-waiting. Valeria barely tolerated any attendants and had had no handmaiden’s since her childhood maid had been allowed to leave to start a family. Such few as there were around Valeria, even fewer travelled with her to Somershalla. In this regard, approaching the princess of Svanhald was easier done than the stable-master’s daughter.
Oft in the past this had mattered little, as Valeria had chosen to spend much of her time safe in his company. That would have to change now if the reports Bjorn had shared proved true.
Ulfric knocked on the door to the chamber. “Who is it?”
“Enter as you please.” Ulfric pushed the door inward and immediately had to avert his eyes. Valeria was striding about the room clad only in a belt that held two strips of hanging cloth over her sex and behind and the golden clasp she was fastening above her firm and bountiful bosom.
“Valeria! You should not allow men to enter your room whilst you are unclad.” Ulfric chastised. Valeria sighed and dropped her hands to her hips.
“I do not allow men to enter. I allowed my brother.”
“Ulfric, we used to bathe together it is a little late to be shy.” Valeria fastened a side-less fur drape to her collar. Still the considerable swell of her chest pushed it open at the middle.
“We have both changed much since then.”
“Ah, do a woman’s curves frighten you then? I was sure some others must have shared them with you by now.”
“This is not a matter of jest. Curves and shyness are of no matter. You are a princess and a princess must keep some of her gifts concealed lest they lose their worth to the one who at last receives them.”
“Nonsense. If the Gods had meant for me to be modest, they would have granted me a more modest form. Unless you would have me wear thick layers of shapeless rags my curves will show through.”
“That is besides the matter.”
“Is it? For whom am I meant to keep my gifts hidden? This is my eighteenth year, Ulfric, my hand has been asked for since I was twelve.”
“Would you have wished marriage so young?”
“Far from it.”
“Why then would you disapprove of father’s care?”
“I do not disapprove, I simply note that it is unusual and begin to wonder for what reason this is so.”
“You are only unwed because father values you so highly.”
“I am not a fool, Ulfric. Word wanders through the halls of Stormhold. I know there have been offers more than equal to the worth of a princess.”
“Forget not that your beauty has worth too.”
“So my caring father is simply waiting for enough gold and land?”
“No…I mean that he has no need to settle for something less than you deserve. Surely that is what you want too?”
“I would like to believe that but it does not hold true. If father was concerned only for my happiness, he would let me meet my suitors. Is there not some small chance I might like one of them?”
“I did not realise you were so eager to be joined. I will speak to father on this matter anon. It may be that there is a suitor worthy of you.”
“It is not marriage that concerns me. I am a woman and I want the affections that a woman deserves. If that is to be from an esteemed suitor then so be it. And if father has no wish for me to wed ever then let me find joy in the arms of whom I please.” Valeria laughed sadly. “Forgive me, Ulfric, a brother is the last person who would wish to hear of his sister’s wants. We have a more pressing matter at hand. Is Wiglaf returned?”
“He is. I came to tell you as such.”
“Good. Could you pass me my belt?” Ulfric handed over the golden, weave-patterned, belt and Valeria closed it around her furs. There remained a revealing gap down the centre but Ulfric said nothing of it. She was right in one thing. A form like hers was hard to hide.
The royal heirs met Bjorn and Wiglaf in the trophy hall, a rectangular room with a single, long table set alongside a large, central fireplace with various beast heads of bears, boars, wolves and stags lining every wall. Both of the men had placed themselves across the table to the fire, which at this time was more for light than heat. Bjorn had his bear head hood down uncovering the thick black curls that matched with his bushy beard. At his temples and around his chin there were stray streaks of grey. Otherwise he looked the same as the burly hunter Ulfric had met on his first visit to Somershalla some thirteen years ago. That was not the first time they had met, for he and his sister had been born in Somershalla, but he had no recollection of that encounter.
Wiglaf had remained standing, dusting down his fur-collared, sleeveless, brown coat that hung to shin-level over the top of a simple blue-grey tunic and russet-coloured trousers. There was nothing remarkable-looking about Wiglaf. He was of average-height and girth and was neither handsome nor foul. His beard and straight, collar-length hair were a muted brown, neither dark nor approaching on blond.
Only in his iron grey eyes was there a hint of the inner-power he possessed. Wiglaf was a skaldr, a teller of sagas and songs. Years ago they had been the most hunted of all the Senatian Empire’s enemies for it was said that their strong voices and the tales of glory were what inspired the hardy northern folk to fight with such unnatural prowess against the more advanced, disciplined and numerous imperial armies.
Ulfric had never witnessed this power first-hand and Wiglaf was the only skald he had ever known. What was clear to him was that Wiglaf was a man of almost infinite lore. Through his memories and sagas he was Ulfric’s foremost source of history and knowledge of the lands and peoples of the Northern Kingdoms. He was not entirely sure how old the storyteller was, perhaps in his fourth decade, like Bjorn he had not seemed to change at all in all the years he had known him.
Both men greeted him and his sister without letting their gazes being drawn into her cleavage. After a decade of familiarity, these two were like uncles to them. All of them filled a horn of mead and with that Ulfric began a detailed retelling of their encounter in the forest. Wiglaf interrupted only to ask which of them the attackers went for first. Though he did not wish to do so in front of Valeria, he conceded that it was her.
“Not so.” Valeria interjected. “The woman shot some form of dark…I know not how to describe it…a trail of black mist at you first.”
“So that is why you pushed me aside. I did not see the thing you describe.”
“Please, go on.” Wiglaf encouraged. Ulfric continued the tale up to the point where Valeria’s sword flashed bright and the strange pair retreated.
“That was strange.” Ulfric noted looking at his sister. “There was no sunlight above us.” Bjorn and Wiglaf exchanged a look and it did not go unnoticed.
“You know something? Who were those people?” Valeria demanded.
“I do not know yet. If I were forced to guess, from your description I would say they were of the dockalfr.”
“Dockalfr.” Ulfric repeated. Had he not witnessed their strangeness himself he would have laughed at the description. “The legends tell only of elves that are good folk and many say those tales are naught but fancy.”
“That is not so. There are tales of elves that are not creatures of the light. Yet it is rare indeed for them to be seen in our world and most particularly in Svanhald, which has ever been under the watch of the Ljosalfr.”
“You mean to say there are elves in our kingdom?”
“You are in their heartland, Ulfric. Of that I can assure you.” Bjorn added.
“You have met them?” Valeria asked.
“Once, some years ago. I fear, though, this is a talk you should have with your father.”
“Does he know something about this?”
“That is for him to tell you or nay. He is my king; I cannot speak out of turn.”
“If we are in danger we must know!”
“Bjorn is right. You do need to speak to your father. Still, I can tell you a little. Your father did not know you might be attacked here, that is sure. As for your question, I think it is only you, Valeria, who is at peril. That is not to say I believe the dockalfr will come for you again.”
“Why are they interested in me at all? I have had no dealing with elves dark or light.”
“The alfr do not live in our world and for the most part have no dealings with men. In their world they have enemies. The dockalfr are elves who have been exiled for ill deeds. They are not dark in the sense that other elves are light. Some of them are fair and wise, others may be evil indeed. More importantly, they serve neither the alfr nor their enemies and this makes them useful agents for both sides. These dockalfr that attacked you may have been seeking knowledge for another party.”
“What am I to the enemies of the elves?” Bjorn and Wiglaf answered with uneasy silence. “Very well, then why now?” Bjorn nodded his head and answered.
“It may be that the conflicts of Alfheimr are spreading to the world of men.”
“Are you speaking of the burnings?” Ulfric questioned.
“What burnings?” Valeria looked from her brother to the others.
“Valeria may know of this.” Ulfric assented.
“We have reports from the Jorngards. Caravans have been attacked and isolated homesteads torched. Likely it is the work of bandits…we will know more soon.”
“Are you leaving us?”
“No, I am.” Ulfric replied. “We await riders from Stormhold and then I shall make for the lands of the Jorngards. When I leave you must return home. We cannot be sure the dockalfr will not come for you again here.”
“There were only two of them. I doubt they will try to pluck me from within these walls.”
“Doubt is not enough.”
“So be it. Will I get any more answers tonight?” No responses were forthcoming. “Then I will take my leave and find some answers for myself.”
“Stay within the walls.” Ulfric cautioned. Valeria gave him a look of pure venom.
“Wiglaf, do you have the keys to the library.”
“I will have someone bring them to your chamber directly.”
“Thank you. Goodnight to you all.” The men watched Valeria leave then turned to each other once more.
“What more can you tell me? You are sure the dockalfr are set on Valeria?”
“You should speak to your father.”
“I will in time but many miles will separate us for the coming days. If my sister is in peril, I must know now.”
“Neither of us has any knowledge of that. The best we can do is convince Valeria to take our warnings to heart.”
“She will. She is no fool. Likely she will find out more by her own means than you estimate. At least do me the kindness of keeping pace with her. I do not doubt you know not the intentions of these dockalfr yet the two of you do know something of magic. Is Valeria like you? She could see things I could not and that light from her sword was no reflection. It is clear she has gifts that I do not share.”
“Valeria is not like any of us. She is something apart. None of us can know with any certainty what powers she might possess.”
“You always knew this. You knew she is different.”
“We all knew. Bjorn was there when you were born. I came to your father’s hall for her sake.”
“Why did you never say something?”
“Your father made me vow to keep my tongue until the time came to reveal the truth. I must keep my tongue still until your father bids me to unbind it.”
“Why did he do this?”
“He wanted Valeria to have her youth unburdened by her destiny. It was from kindness he did so.”
“So that is why you quarrelled? You wanted to speak freely?”
“I felt the time was nigh. Your father felt otherwise and he is the king. I have bent my duty to tell you as much as have.”
“Be not troubled. I will test your loyalty no further. More questions I will ask afore I leave but none more tonight. Bjorn, will you have some of your salves taken to the sauna?”
“Of course, my liege.”
The air outside the hall remained warm even as the midnight hour approached. Ulfric could not remember a summer as hot as this one. Usually the air would cool the moment the light faded. The space in between the various buildings of Somershalla was littered with trees. Aside from the high fence and gates, there was little to delineate between the settlement and the surrounding woodland. He was surprised to see someone cross into his path from behind the large oak that took up much of the central courtyard. The moonlight shone down on the square face and even features of Dalla, the stable master’s daughter. Her pale blonde hair shone silver in the gleam and, not for the first time, Ulfric was reminded of how very pretty she was. On seeing the prince she smiled, sending up eyebrows darting up her brow and bent her knee in acknowledgement.
“Stay on your feet. Courtesy can be forgotten at this hour.”
“What keeps you abroad at this time?”
“The horses were unsettled and now I must fetch them more water. This heat brings on a strong thirst in them.”
“Allow me to assist your labour. The horses are my concern too.”
“I thank you, my prince, for your offer but I have but one more to fetch. I am strong you need not worry.” Ulfric looked her over. She was not boasting, though she was by no means bulky her figure was trim and toned from vigorous exercise. He had little doubt she was probably fitter than half his fighting men. “It would shame me to distract you for such a small labour.”
“Very well, I have no wish to shame you. Have a pleasant night.”
“Thank you, my prince, and a fair night to you also.”
They parted ways though the prince did look back more than once. Many a lord would take such a woman whether they willed it or no with little thought to the harm it would do her. The law would be on their side and the most the woman could hope for was that he might acknowledge any issue that resulted. Ulfric had no desire to be such a lord.
The training yard was deserted as he might have expected. Ulfric went straight to the thatched canopy that kept the weapons from getting wet. At other times warriors might want to test battle-ready swords and axes. Tonight, all that was present were the blunted versions used for practice. Ulfric selected an iron-headed axe that was deliberately made to be overweight. Using this weapon built up strength and taught the wielder not to over-exert and over-extend. After endless hours of practice Ulfric could swing it as fast as most men could move a standard-weight version.
His earlier fight kept replaying itself in his mind. It had been years since anyone had got the better of him in a dual. Now he knew his opponent was a dockalfr, did it make the shame lessen? Certainly it explained the unnatural agility. It did not explain how he would fare better if he should confront one again. In armour he would be better protected yet even without armour he was too slow to land a blow on the creature. The straw men took hit after hit. Every swing failed to purge his frustration and despite the night hour he soon started to sweat. Maybe the axe was the problem? Like his forebears he had trained to cleave mail and break through imperial shield walls. For both these purposes the war axe excelled. Against a lightly clad, mobile foe he would do better to use a sword or scramasax.
The training yard kept both of these weapons and Ulfric set about the straw men with one in each hand. The one-sided scramasax, tapered in on its blunt side, seemed to bite slightly harder: the double-edged sword had better range, was more versatile and considerably better on the thrust. Over and again he tried variations, switched hands, used one at a time, changed to a hand axe. The straw men never taught him what a moving enemy would and eventually fatigue overcame what gains he could hope to make.
The sauna was cut into the hillside like a small cavern. There was a small room at the entrance where Ulfric disrobed then he passed through a door into a circular room lined with benches. In the middle of the floor there was a pile of rocks that glowed with heat providing most of the light. The rest was given by candles in four corner alcoves carved into the stone walls. A leafy branch and several jars of oils and pastes had been set out on the far bench in preparation. Ulfric poured some water from the dish onto the coals releasing a cloud of steam that made his skin itch with warmth and then planted himself on the bench next to the jars. Sweat was already running in rivers down his back and more started to accumulate on his shoulders and forearms. He let his head droop and the steam waft over him.
Minutes later the sound of the door made Ulfric snap his eyes open and stare open mouthed as Dalla stepped into the sauna bereft of all clothing. “Forgive me, my prince, I had not reckoned on anyone being here. I shall depart if it is your wish.” In spite of himself Ulric could not stop his eyes wandering over her body taking in her firm breasts and rigid abdomen and skirting down over her well-trimmed mound. Neither could he stop his blood from swelling in his manhood. His only hope was that the light might be too dim for Dalla to notice.
“Do not leave on my account. The sauna is for all. You have as much right to be here as a prince.”
“I should be glad to stay.” Dalla poured more water on the stones and slowly walked over to the bench next to Ulfric where she stopped still, her nakedness mere inches from him and unable to avoid. She placed one hand upon the prince’s shoulder. “By the Gods. You are a strong one.” Her fingers traced from his shoulder to his jaw. “And almost as pretty as your sister too.” Dalla’s grin shifted to concern when Ulfric turned to face her. “You are hurt, I did not notice afore.”
“The pain is little I had thought to use a remedy.” Ulfric answered looking to the jars of ointments.
“I would be honoured, my prince, if you would allow me to help.”
Ulfric did not object and Dalla started to apply the paste across the thin cut on his right cheek then to the sore streak on his left where the flat of the dockalfr’s blade had struck him. Throughout he tried not to stare at the tits near his face or the sex near where his hand rested on his knee. “There are some who think saunas are holy places where spirits may dwell.”
“I have heard said that women sometimes give birth in saunas too.”
“Mayhap it is the only place where people may share nakedness free from lust.”
“Indeed. It is no different than between brothers and sisters.”
“Maybe next time you can bring your sister, my prince.” Dalla’s brown eyes flashed mischievously. “I would like to see that.”
“Why not? It means nothing…” Ulfric stopped speaking when Dalla started to apply the paste below his mouth where he had been kicked. When she finished she planted a gentle kiss on his lips and this was enough to make his cock lurch upward in delight.
“My prince!” Dalla cooed putting both her hands around the solid shaft. “You would be in place in the stables. Let me take you inside me.”
“I take the moon brew and besides, you are a man of honour. I trust that you would treat any issue with honour.”
“Then…” Ulfric took hold of Dalla by the waist supporting her whole weight in his hands and felt her warmth slide over the head of his turgid member. “Slowly…my prince, this is not my first but…ohh…it’s bigger…ahh.” Bit by joyous bit his cock sank inside Dalla until she felt fused to his groin. Their lips locked together and Ulfric rose to his feet holding her in one arm. Her legs locked around him they bucked against each other. “Fuck me, my prince, fuck me till I…ahhh.” Ulfric thrust his full manhood into her over and again until her juices ran down his thigh. Against the wall, over the benches, suspended in mid-air her womanhood welcomed him with every stroke. Never had he felt more powerful or more complete than holding Dalla as he was deep inside her, meeting her kisses, drinking in her scent and relishing her throes of excitement. The pain of his injuries, the ache in his muscles, his frustration and even the slowing heat of the sauna faded in lustful abandon.