Abridged Excerpt from SWORDS ACROSS THE THAMES

Lae opened her eyes and looked around the hut. She moved her hand under the fur covering that she used as a pillow. Her dagger was still there. The good hosts had not removed her weapon although Olenka would have had the opportunity. The medicine that she had given to Lae had put her into a deep sleep.

Lae looked at her fingers that protruded from a birch bark splint. The swelling had gone down.

“You are awake,” Olenka said.“How long have I slept?”

“Two days.”

Lae swung her feet to the mat that covered the hard packed earthen floor.

“Don’t move too quickly. You may be weak.” Olenka put her hand on Lae’s shoulder, steadying her.

“I would like to exercise. Is the weather good?”

Olenka chuckled. “I think you had better exercise inside first. Come to the table, and I’ll give you some excellent soup that Nissa has made for you.

“Nissa?”

“She is Eiric’s wife.”

“I know her brothers,” Lae said.

Lae accepted Olenka’s help to the table and watched while she prepared three bowls of soup.

Amidst a swirl of snow, a hooded figure entered the hut. Nissa stared at Lae.

“Nissa, please sit. Our guest is about to sample the soup you so kindly sent to us,” Olenka said.

“Thank you,” Nissa said.

“Nissa is my brother’s wife.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you.” Lae wondered if the banality sounded like a lie.

Nissa stared at the soup. “I have waited for you to awaken.”

“Why, might I ask?” Lae watched Nissa surreptitiously to see if she would eat the soup.

“When my brothers were held hostage in Wessex by King Aelfred . . .”

“Nissa!” Olenka’s voice was sharp.

Nissa’s face turned crimson, and she dropped her spoon. She was as still as a stone. “I am sorry,” she whispered.

“A hostage is someone who is taken against his will. Your brothers were given to my father’s care without coercion.” Lae’s words were short and sharply delivered.

“I am sorry.” Nissa looked directly at Lae. “I meant to give you a compliment. My brothers have often spoken highly of you. If they were here, they would be pestering you every day.”

“How are they?”

Nissa smiled. “Both have grown to strong men. You would not recognize them.”

“Where are they now?” Lae noticed the furtive glance that Nissa gave to Olenka. Lae was on guard.

“They are on a journey to our homeland.” Olenka spoke quickly. “We do not expect them back while you are here. The weather is not good.”

“I see.” Lae took a spoonful of soup. “This is delicious.” She ate in silence for the rest of the meal. There was something strange about the women’s attitudes. She was their guest, and by Viking rules, she was not to be harmed. However, neither her hosts nor she could forget that they were enemies.

 

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