If you didn’t already have a clue, things were hard for women in Medieval times. More so if you were a captive, because then you had no protector–not a husband or family, to stand between you and the desires of the person who owned you. And that’s where Beatrix Ellroy’s heroine finds herself. A captive, but helping a man still recovering from a crippling battle wound. Enjoy the excerpt! ~ Delilah Devlin
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The Oak and the Ale by Beatrix Ellroy
“You would want to lay with me,” she said, finally.
It was no question, but I turned to look at her through narrowed eyes. “Yes? That is how we have marriages.” I swallowed another mouthful of ale, my gut twisting as I considered her words. Why would she lay with a twisted, useless almost-thrall like me? My axe was still beside the door; I hadn’t wielded it since I walked out of my sickbed. So I blurted out the first thing to come to mind. “But you don’t have to.”
She looked at me in surprise. “You’d allow me to say no?”
“I wouldn’t force you.” The idea was abhorrent, and I swallowed more of the ale to wash the taste of the thought away. The flavor soothed and lingered on my tongue, and transformed, like Loki had laid his mouth on me, I spoke, soft and low. “I would not lay with you until you begged me.”
She laughed, short and sudden. “Why would I beg?”
I frowned again. “You don’t know?”
“It’s not something I would beg for.”
I let that comment lay between us as the ale and warmth, and the line of confusion between her eyes made me foolish. “A deal then, astin min.”
The line deepened.
“I’ll not lay with you until you beg me, but let me have a chance or two at it.”
She looked at me, meeting my gaze, the line deep and her mouth flattened into a thin seam. “How? What would that mean?”
I lay back on the rug mat she’d woven, my feet close to the fire, and stared up at the thatch. “Well, kissing is traditional. Some touching.” I looked over at her. “Licking, should the chance arise.”
She looked utterly bemused. I pushed myself over, shifting close. She stayed still, looking down at me from the corner of her eye.
“You tell me to stop, and I will. Freja strike me down if I don’t.”
“I’ll strike you down if you don’t!”
I grinned at her. “That you will.”
I could see her back move as she took a deep breath. “So we will marry, but you won’t lay with me until I beg?”
“Aye, as long as you let me have the chance to change your mind.”
She nodded. “That’s as fair and as good as I’m likely to get.”
Faint praise, but I took it nonetheless. “So, erskling, shall we start?”
“What, right now?”
I shrugged. The ale made me feel soft at the edges, and her mouth looked sweet and lovely in the firelight. “We can. I could kiss you.” She looked frantic, and I touched her hand. “We don’t have to; we can just sleep.”
I stroked along the long bones of her hand, the calluses from the knives, the loom and the needles. Her nails were short, blunt, and ragged in places, and I traced them with my fingertips. She stared down at our hands, and I stroked along the edges of her hand, the crease of her wrist, along the slim bones leading up her arm. The fine hairs rose, and with a prayer to Freja I lifted her hand, and she let me. I placed a kiss in the centre of her palm. I looked up and her eyes were wide and dark, her mouth open just a little.
I smiled. “There you go, Aridhe, one kiss.” Her fingers curled closed, and I smiled wider. “Good night, astin min, we’ll go see the Jarl in the morning, aye?”