Ah, Britannia, that rugged foggy isle. By the time of the Viking invasions in the ninth century, the people of these lands had become a mix of the natives (before 200 BC) and incessant waves of conquerers (Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons). Absorbing newcomers and forging a new nation were a familiar process when Scandanavian adventurers set foot on her shores.
Similar in so many ways to the earlier Northern European tribes that had made this island their home, the Danes and Norse fought the Britons for the right to the land and its natural resources. The years of their success—from the late 800s to the time of the Norman invasion of 1066—remains one of the most turbulent and formative eras of English history.
This is the time that our fictional Elspeth, Lady of Hystead, holds tenuous dominion over her aging husband’s estate. Lying just west of the contested border between Dane-held lands and surviving Anglo-Saxon provinces, Hystead served as the center of commerce and social life for the region. The land supported rich crops and healthy herds of cattle, sheep, and swine. Families lived and died here, and men of fighting age protected it under the Hystead coat of arms.
Borderland skirmishes brought bloodshed on both sides. Hated enemies, the Danes must have been an object of mystery and intrigue among those who had never seen them. The lady’s command that a captive be brought to her might have raised a few eyebrows among the Hystead thegns. But they did what the lady demanded.
The Captive by Lizzie Ashworth
“Dane, do you know why you were brought here?”
Elspeth, Lady of Hystead, gathered her thick red skirts and sat on the curved stool at the side of the room, opposite the spot where the broad-shouldered man stood. Her hungry gaze drank in the powerful strength of his legs, the ripple of muscle in his chest and arms, the iron line of his jaw. Even wounded, even smeared with the grit and gore of battle, his body glistened with male vigor.
Candlelight reflected off the lime-washed walls and framed the warrior’s furious stare. He strained against the bonds holding his wrists behind him and stretched the short length of rope between his ankles. Animal skins covered the stone-paved floor under his feet, one of few luxuries in the humble room with its bed, bucket of hot coals, and side table.
She turned to the two armed men who’d brought him. “Go now and bar the door until I call.”
An angry string of foreign words followed the men as they departed. Elspeth heard the bar fall into place with a heavy thump.
Pale blue eyes flashed toward her, defiant.
“What of our language do you know, Dane? Can you speak?”
“I know enough,” he snarled, his words heavily accented. “What is your intent, woman?”
His tongue slid over the crease of his narrow lips, but he gave no answer.
“You must be thirsty.” She poured another cup from the ewer and carried it to his mouth, tilting it forward.
He drank deeply. The line of his jaw slackened slightly, and she remained beside him, more intrigued than ever by his bristling strangeness. The grime of battle still coated his face and arms, but elsewhere, his body had been covered with clothing and armor, now mostly removed, so that he stood in rough pants that hung from his hips. Blood smeared from cuts on his arms and hands did not disguise the inked design scrolling over his tanned arms. A section of his yellow-white hair clumped against his scalp in a dried, darkened mass while the rest fell in tangles around his shoulders.
“Are all your kind so beautiful?” she asked quietly, trailing her fingertip across his chest. His nipples lay flat on the domed pectoral muscles and more ink patterned a fantastical beast between them. Hardly a hair curled there, although lower on his abdomen a faint line of darker hair collected downward to disappear at the waist of his pants. Her gaze lingered there briefly as her pulse quickened.
Enjoy the rest of “The Captive” in Conquests: An Anthology of Smoldering Viking Romance!
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