Santa Viking

Santa Viking
Sandra Hill

December 2012 $11.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-2170

Santa Viking is a collection of two novellas: Bolthor's Bride and A Viking for Christmas... A fun, romantic romp yule love! Merry Christmas from the Norse Pole.

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

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A fun, romantic romp yule love! Meet a sexy tenth-century Viking hero and a modernday hero with a Vikingheritage who both have the knack for making womenmelt . . . with holiday cheer. Merry Christmas from the Norse Pole.

Bolthor's Bride

Bolthor the Skald has been there for his fellow warriors, both in battle and as a friend. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, so to speak. This gentle giant, now scarred and retired from the fray, has never found a woman who loves him despite his rough appearance—and his poetry, which is woefully bad.

Enter the sexy, Saxon widow Katherine of Wickshire Manor, a woman in need of a strongman to take care of her,her four children, not to mention about two hundred chickens,in the style none of her first three husbands could manage.

When Viking meets Saxon, the sparks do fly.

A VIKING FOR CHRISTMAS

Bodyguard Erik Thorsson, a fiftieth generation Viking,meets Jessica Jones, dressed as a cute Santa Claus,when she stages a righteous attempt to rob the local Piggly Jiggly. All Jessica wants is a refund for a Burping Bear toy, which the store refuses to honor.

Fortunately, or unfortunately,Jessica takes hostage another Santa in the store, Erik himself, after accidentally shooting the Little Debbie cupcake display. For the first time in five years, since his beloved wife died, Erik finds himself head over Santa boot heels in love, but how to convince Jessica that he's not her Christmas curse, but instead a Christmas miracle.

Sandra Hill is the bestselling author of more than thirty romantic humor novels. Whether they be historicals, contemporaries, time travels, or Christmas novellas, whether they be Vikings, Cajuns, Navy SEALs or sexy Santas, the common element in all her books is humor. Visit her at www.sandrahill.com.


Reviews

"…amusing and fun, with entertaining characters and interesting stories… If you are looking for a bit of love and laughter, Santa Viking is a humorous diversion with a Norse twist." -- Julie Johnson, Booktrib


Excerpt

Chapter One

Did Vikings get writers' block...?

’Twas the yule season in the icy Northlands, best known as Jól, a time for good Norsemen to cocoon themselves in warm timber keeps over the dark winter months. Come the spring thaw, they would be off a-Viking once again.

Animals had already been slaughtered... pigs, cattle, and such... so they would not have to be fed over the dark months. Vegetables had been preserved. Firewood cut. Mead brewed.

A time for celebrating at leisure, with tuns of mead, both for the pagan solstice and Christ’s birth. And, of course, many a Viking child would be conceived in the bed furs by Viking men and women who were bored and lustsome.

But not everyone was merry this yule season. Bolthor the Skald, for one, was not in the mood. Not for good Jól. Not for the mead madness. Not for bedsport. Not for the exchange of manly boasts of daring adventures in far-off lands or betwixt a woman’s thighs. And he was definitely not in the verse mood, which was sad for a skald, but, truth be told, his brain was blocked for any new poems.

In early days, he had been called Bolthor the Big because of his uncommon size. In his prime, he had also been known as Bolthor the Berserker, a far-famed warrior, but that was before he lost an eye in a long-ago battle. Not that he could not fight if need be, just not with the skills he had in the past. Still later, some referred to him, behind his back, as Bolthor the World’s Worst Skald. Despite the change in status, from warrior to poet, he had not been unhappy. For a certainty, he had come here to Dragonstead, home of his good friend Tykir Thorksson for that very reason... to entertain the guests with his praise-poems and sagas.

"What is amiss, my friend?” Tykir asked, coming up to him at the back of the Dragonstead great hall where he had been sitting on one bench, leaning back against the trestle table, with his booted feet propped on the other bench. Tykir carried two horns of mead, handing one to him.

"Naught of concern.”

"You seem gloomy of spirit.”

Gloomy? Viking men do not get gloomy. Viking women, mayhap, but I am too manly for such brooding emotions. "I am not gloomy. Can a man not be quiet and contemplative on occasion?”

"Did someone say something to offend you? Just say the word, and I will lop off the lout’s loose tongue.”

"Dost think I would let words wound me? And I can do my own lopping, thank you very much.”

"Perchance you have a bad case of the rumbling bowels.”

"Aaarrgh! My bowels are in fine shape. Go away, Tykir. If I was not gloomy afore, I will be now under your bothersome questions.”

"Mayhap you need to tup a maid, or five. Have I ever told you about the famous Viking S-Spot?”

"Lackwit! I was the one who taught you about the famous Viking S-Spot. And, hear me well, the answer to every problem is not a roll in the bed furs.”

"It works for me.”

The two men grinned at each other then.

Bolthor had seen forty-two winters. Tykir was older than him by a half dozen years or more, but Tykir was still a comely man with long, silver-threaded blond hair, beaded war braids framing one side of his face only, exposing a thunderbolt earring. Whereas Bolthor had ne’er been considered a prime specimen of male beauty. He was not ugly, but he was too big, too rough-skinned, and, of course, there was the missing eye, ever covered by a black patch.

Although he had to admit that he did look better than usual in the fine raiment that Tykir and his wife Alinor had given him as a Jól gift... soft brown wool braies, an overtunic in a darker brown wool with neck and sleeves embroidered with gold thread in a writhing dragon design, and a gold link belt. Vikings loved to give gifts, no matter the season. He had brought a barrel of fine Frankish wine as his gift for them.

But now, Bolthor took a long swig of the cool mead, which came from Tykir’s sister-by-marriage, Eadyth, and his brother Eirik, who had yet to arrive from their Northumbrian estate, Ravenshire. Eadyth was renowned for her honey trade, which included the sale of honey itself, but also candles and very fine mead.

"Why do you keep yourself apart from the others?” Tykir persisted.

That’s it! I give up! Bolthor exhaled with whooshy surrender. "I know they will ask for a saga or praise-poem, and I have none to offer.”

"None at all?”

Bolthor was not sure that was dismay or exhilaration that flashed on Tykir’s face at the news of no poem reciting.

"Not one single ode can I think of.”

"All ode-ed out, eh?” Tykir joked.

Bolthor was not amused.

"I invited you here for your company, not just for your... um, talents. We have been friends and comrades-in-arms for more than twenty years, my friend. Your presence is enough.”

Bolthor nodded, then conceded, "I could recite some of the old praise-poems I created about you over the years.”

That was definitely dismay on Tykir’s face. "You recall them? All of them?” he choked out, then drank half his horn of mead in one long gulp.

"Yea, I do. Some from memory, but others I wrote on a wax tablet to remind myself,” he said. "Hmmm. There is ‘Saga of the Proud Viking,’ ‘Tykir the Great and the Raging Bowel,’ ‘Dumb Vikings,’ ‘The Bewitched Viking,’ ‘Manly Rules of Love,’ ‘Advice to a Dumb Dolt,’ ‘A Viking View of Life,’ ‘Tykir and the Horny Sheep,’ or ‘Viking Men and Jiggling Bosoms.’ For a start.”

"Oh, my gods!” Tykir did not even try to hide his dismay now. "You would not!”

Bolthor grinned.

"Yea, Bolthor would, if I have my say. Mayhap I will learn more about my dearling husband,” Alinor said, coming up and giving Bolthor a quick kiss on the cheek.

"Hey! How about me?” Tykir asked with mock affront, pulling Alinor onto his lap and kissing her with vigor and smacking lips.

Tykir and Alinor were smitten with each other, even after more than ten years of marriage. But they were the most mismatched couple... everyone said so... he being godly handsome and her not so pretty, with bushy rust-colored hair and hundreds of freckles. Then there were the rumors of her being a witch. Of course, Tykir considered her beautiful, and that was all that mattered. He cared not a whit if she was a witch or a sorceress as long as she shared his bed furs, Tykir told one and all.

"Did you find out why he is so gloomy?” Alinor asked Tykir, as if Bolthor were not there to ask directly.

"I am not gloomy,” Bolthor repeated. I wonder if there is a cave somewhere that I can burrow in for the winter. All by myself. With a barrel of ale.

"I did ask why he had such a long face, but I do not think he gave me an answer. Did you?” Tykir turned to him.

These people were barmy. Nice barmy, but barmy still. "Nay, I did not. There is naught wrong with me. Must I be smiling and spouting drivel all the time?” Now that is an image of myself I do not like. Is that how people see me? A jester, no less!

Ignoring what Bolthor said, Tykir told his wife, "The verse mood has suddenly left him, like the prick of a bloated sheep bladder. Ssssssssssssssssh!”

Some comparison! First a jester, now a stinksome animal!

"Really?” Alinor appeared genuinely concerned. "I was hoping to hear a new poem about you, husband.”

Tykir pinched his wife’s buttock.

She squealed.

They kissed.

Same as always. They were like children, even though they had four children of their own.

Straightening in Tykir’s lap with her holding onto his straying hands, Alinor gave her attention back to Bolthor. "Methinks I know the cure for your sad state.”

Bolthor groaned. I know what is coming. For my sins, they plague me with the same old subject.

"A woman.”

"That’s precisely what I told him,” Tykir said. "A good swiving of a dozen or so young maids with jiggly bosoms, and he will be right as rain.”

"That is not what I meant, you crude oaf.”

"But I am your crude oaf,” Tykir asserted.

"That you are, heartling.” Alinor gave Tykir a fleeting kiss of apology. "I meant a wife. We must needs finds a bride for Bolthor.”

That is even worse. Bolthor put his face in his hands and counted to ten, then reminded Alinor, "You tried this afore, milady. Remember the Saxon thrall with a bottom the size of a bishop’s arse.”

"Well, appearance is not everything,” Alinor replied huffily, though a smile twitched at her lips.

Bolthor rolled his one eye. "She had a wart on the tip of her nose, Alinor. A big wart.”

"Oh. Well, there was the tradeswoman from Jorvik,” Alinor reminded him.

"She preferred women to men.”

"Huh?”

Tykir whispered an explanation in his wife’s ear.

She went wide-eyed at whatever he said. "There were others that were good prospects,” Alinor insisted.

"I would like to know which ones. All I can think of is the former nun who liked to have her toes sucked. Or the warrior woman who wanted to arm wrestle with me. Or the harlot with the strange rash. Or the Arab girl who could not have seen more than twelve winters. Or the noble lady from Norsemandy who loved her ale, all day long. Oh, the Saxon wench was comely enough, but—”

Alinor raised her hands in surrender.

Tykir, of course, was laughing like a fool.

"Leastways you are wearing the garments I had specially made for you, Bolthor.” The devious gleam in her green eyes caused warning bells to go off in Bolthor’s head.

Uh-oh! Methinks the witch has another of her plans afoot.

Shoving herself off her husband’s lap and wayward fingers, Alinor brushed the wrinkles out of her gunna and said, "I still say a good woman is the cure for your melancholy. ‘Bolthor’s Bride,’ that is the name of my new venture.”

He would like to tell Alinor what he thought of that idea, but it would not have mattered. Alinor did what Alinor wanted.

To distract them from this unpalatable subject, Bolthor said, "Methinks I might have a small poem. I will call it ‘Ode to a Norse Winter.’”

’Tis oftimes said of Viking men
when icy winds blow down
’Tis best to stoke the fires in hearths,
As well as manly fires below.

"That was horrible,” Alinor said in an undertone to her husband.

Does she think I have hearing problems just because I have only one eye?

"All his odes are horrible,” Tykir replied, also in an overloud undertone. "But at least he’s creating the bloody things again.”

Yea, they think I am weak of ear. And no doubt weak of brain, as well.

"Very well done, Bolthor,” Alinor lied, a belated response to his poem. "But I am still going to work on my ‘Bolthor’s Bride’ venture.”

Bolthor bit his tongue to prevent foul words from escaping. He would like to tell Tykir that his time would be better spent chasing after his four sons, the oldest of whom, Thork, was surely the wildest, most mischievous youthling in all the Norselands. With his father’s blond hair and his mother’s green eyes, he strutted about Dragonstead like lord of the manor, leaving havoc in his wake. ’Twas enough to make a Norseman glad to be without cubs of his own.

All thought of gloom or Alinor’s machinations or out-of-control children fled his mind then as a young stableboy rushed into the great hall. His hair and clothing were covered with snowflakes. His nose and ears were red, and green snot was frozen above his upper lip. The floor rushes came billowing up as he came to an abrupt halt in front of Tykir, who stood now, along with Bolthor. The boy panted for breath, then blurted out, "The cold outside is nigh unbearable, jarl.” Jarl was a title of nobility in the Norselands, similar to a British earl. "The fjord is startin’ to ice up, and the outer guard tol’ me that yer brother’s longship is stuck ’bout three hides from here.”

"Why didn’t you say that to begin with?” Tykir snapped. He was already donning his fur-lined boots, gloves, mantle and hat. Bolthor was doing the same, following after him, as were dozens of other men about the hall as word passed quickly. They needed no orders. All knew the danger of the cold and freezing fjord this time of the year. It could change from very cold to a deathly cold within the span of an hour, the kind of cold where body appendages froze and broke off like icicles. Many an ear or nose or finger had been lost thus.

They rushed down the incline toward the fjord, each carrying a torch to light the way, along with blankets. The air was so cold it hurt to breathe. What had Eirik been thinking to cross the waters from Britain this late in the season? Eirik was half Saxon, half Viking, sharing a father with Tykir, but his wife was full-blooded Saxon.

The women and a handful of children were huddled around a fire near the shore, whilst some men were breaking the fast-forming ice atop the fjord, and other men were attempting to pull the longship aground over log rollers. He saw Eirik standing in the center, calling out directions.

Seeing them, Eirik came over and gave his brother Tykir warm greeting kisses on each cheek, followed by a tight hug. Then he did the same to Bolthor.

"What can we do?” Bolthor asked.

"I brought men with me. Do you need more?” Tykir asked.

"This should suffice. Bolthor, can you help get this bloody longship aground? And, Tykir, take the women and children up to the keep as soon as possible. The chattering of their teeth and constant nagging is driving us men nigh demented. They think they could do a better job.”

He and Tykir grinned at Eirik, understanding perfectly, then turned to glance at the huddled group before the fire. There was Eadyth, Eirik’s wife, and their four daughters, who gave them little waves, and many more women than Bolthor would have expected, some of the noble classes, if their fine attire was any indication. Eadyth’s son James was missing; he must have stayed home at Ravenshire, or at his own estate at Hawk’s Lair. Smart man!

Suddenly, one women asked, "Which one is Bolthor?”

Bolthor’s head shot up.

"Yea, introduce us, Eadyth,” another woman said.

"Me, too,” one after another said. Six women in all, and possibly seven including the one standing apart with several children.

"Huh?” Bolthor turned to Tykir and Eirik, who both shrugged, then grinned at him.

"Alinor,” Bolthor concluded with disgust. He sighed deeply and seriously considered a long walk to the land of the Danes.

There are manhunts, and then there are MANhunts...

This could very well be the worst mistake that Katherine of Wickshire Manor in Northumbria had ever made. And, saints above! Her short thirty-year life had been filled with plenty of blunders.

—Three marriages to men who had the audacity to die on her, even the middle, young one. Swines, all of them.

—A poultry business she’d started on her estate to replenish the sadly depleted funds left by her last husband, the swine. The business had prospered... too much. Wickshire was overrun with chickens these days and no one to kill and send them to market. In fact, she’d brought four crates of the noisesome creatures as a gift for Alinor, much to the consternation of everyone on the longboat.

—A tiny little quarrel she’d recently had with her fourth cousin, that swine King Edgar, which meant he would be finding her another husband forthwith, and, for a certainty, the man would be as unpalatable as the king could find. Therefore, she must find another husband first.

—A sea voyage to end all sea voyages, as the sturdy longship had tried to outrun the onslaught of winter in this primitive land of mountains and a thousand rivers and cold like she’d never experienced before.

—Four precious children, aged three to twelve, who were driving her barmy.

—Hopes raised that this Viking Bolthor might be the answer to her dilemma... a strong man with no lands but plenty of coin, who supposedly was in need of a wife. Yea, she had come searching for a husband, but not just any man. He must be strong and able to lead. Small though her holdings were, they were all she had to pass on to her children. But, lo and behold, on the journey here she had learned that six other women were coming with the same expectations. Her friend, the wily Alinor, was going to get an earful this day.

Her mouth dropped open as she watched said Bolthor lift one of the logs himself and carry it off to the side. So, strength at least was one of his assets. It was hard to see in the dim light of the torches what he looked like, except for his massive height, but then handsomeness was not a prerequisite for a husband. She’d had that with her last swine... uh, husband, and look where it got her. Widowhood and near poverty.

Bolthor was not young, but neither was Katherine. Thirty years old, four children, a poor estate, and an angry cousin-king did not make for prize bride goods on the marriage mart.

She did have beauty aplenty, however, Katherine noted with no lack of humility, having been told so from an early age. Thick, waist-length hair the color of polished ebony. Full lips that were a natural rose color. Skin like new cream. A body which was too slim for most men’s tastes, but offset by full breasts, narrow waist, long legs and a backside which all three of her husbands had deemed commendable. Frankly, she would be better off with a sizeable dowry than a pretty face.

Well, enough of this dawdling. She motioned for her eldest son, twelve-year-old Matthew, who had been helping move the longship, to come join them on the trek up to the Dragonstead keep.

Then, mindful of that old adage that the slow bird got no worms, she walked up to the giant, her children in tow like ducklings, and pointed a finger in his chest, asking, "Are you Bolthor?”

The man nodded dubiously.

"Take us up to the keep afore we shiver to death,” she demanded.

He looked down at her... and, yea, even though she was tall for a woman, she only came to his shoulder... as if she’d lost her mind. She no doubt had, considering she was in the damned Norselands in the middle of winter looking for a husband. As if poleaxed, he glanced at his comrades, who just grinned.

Eadyth, who had not yet gone up to the keep with the other women and children, walked over and linked her arm with her husband Eirik. "Everyone, I would like to introduce you to Alinor’s friend Katherine from Wickshire Manor in Northumbria. Her estate abuts Graycote Manor, Alinor’s one-time home. And these are her sons, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” Eadyth glared at each of the men then, daring them to make a snide remark about the Biblical names. Turning to Katherine, she continued, "My husband Eirik, you already know. This rascal here is Tykir, Alinor’s husband, who had best stop smirking, or his wife will clobber him. And this, of course, is our good friend Bolthor.”

Bolthor continued to look poleaxed, gazing at Katherine as if she were an apparition. She did not know if that were a good or bad sign.

"Take Katherine and her family up to the keep, if you will, Bolthor.”

Muttering, Bolthor picked up a torch and was about to proceed, not even waiting for them, when Katherine got her first good look at the giant’s face. Slapping a hand to her chest, she said, "Oh, good Lord!”

"What?” Bolthor growled. "Am I too ugly for you, milady?”

"Ugly? You jest. You must be the mostly godly handsome man I have ever seen. Do you wear that eye patch for vanity?”

Bolthor straightened. "I am not handsome and ne’er have been. And this eye patch I wear because I have no eye. Are you satisfied now?” Without waiting for an answer, he started to stomp off.

"I did not mean to offend,” she tried to say, but he was already moving away. Another swine?

Dragonstead was situated in a bowl-shaped valley known as the Valley of the Dragons. The name stemmed from an old legend that millions of years ago this valley had served as a Dragon’s nest. A timber and stone "castle,” in the Frankish rather than the Norse style, sat perched on the lip of one side.

But she was wool-gathering. She picked up speed with her children scurrying after the swine. They had almost caught up when three-year-old John tripped and fell face first into the snow. Before the child had a chance to cry, Bolthor scooped him up and carried him high against his shoulder as if he weighed no more than a feather. John, who was normally folk-shy, just stared at Bolthor with fascination. Touching his fingertips to Bolthor’s eye patch, John asked, "Does it hurt?”

"Not anymore.”

"Are you my father?”

"Nay, child, I am not your father.” John pressed his face into the crook of Bolthor’s neck, and Bolthor kissed the top of his head.

The kiss probably meant no more than a reflex, but, in that moment, Katherine knew she was going to love this man, swine or not. He would be her husband by the new year, or she would die trying.


 

 

Chapter Two

He was a Viking chick magnet...

Bolthor was being overrun with women.

They accosted him in every manner and place they could. One even tried to enter the privy with him. A man was not safe in any nook or cranny of the keep, where all sane persons must needs stay till the ice storm outside died down. He had taken to sleeping with two wolfhounds in a separate sleeping closet near the hearth, which was hot as Muspell with the huge yule logs they kept putting on the fires.

He had cajoled and then threatened Alinor to call off her jackals, to no avail. Finally, he’d had to tell the women themselves in no uncertain terms that he was not interested, not even if they threw in some free bedsport as an enticement. Undaunted, the fickle women just turned their attention to other prey... uh, men... about the hall.

The only one not participating in the chase was the irksome Katherine, who scarce spoke to him since calling him godly handsome two days past. When she did deign to address him, it was to make some sarcastic remark. One time he had even asked her, "Has no one ever told you that sarcasm ill-suits a fine lady?”

To which she had replied with this enticing remark: "I have been a lady for fifteen years and three husbands. Now, I choose to be something else.” He wanted to ask what she meant by that, but he could not for fear that she might actually give him an honest answer which would make her even more tempting.

And, yea, the black-haired witch of uncommon beauty was tempting, even with her sharp tongue, even with those bratlings of hers who clung to him like barnacles. And the woman actually thought he was good of looks! Was she dimsighted or lackwitted? Truth to tell, he was flattered, despite himself.

In any case, it was one thing to tell a herd of women to Begone! and quite another to risk offending little mites who only wanted the company of an adult male. Like now, little John sat on his lap taking a nap. Twelve-year-old Matthew was polishing his third-best sword on the promise that Bolthor would give him lessons later.

"Will you not tell us another story?” five-year-old Luke asked, a thumb going immediately back into his mouth. He was a nervous boy, unsure of himself. Bolthor suspected he had been mistreated by his father, the second husband of the witch who referred to her husbands and most men as swines. Not necessarily with beatings, but harsh words and demeaning criticism.

"I have already told you three dragon sagas, two troll poems, and an ode to brave boys,” Bolthor said, ruffling the child’s unruly hair. He must have escaped his mother’s comb that morn.

"But we like them ever so much,” nine-year-old Mark interjected. Mark tried to appear more grown-up, but he hung on Bolthor’s words same as the smaller ones.

"Are they bothering you?” Katherine said, coming up behind him.

He turned, carefully, so as not to disturb the sleeping boy in his lap.

Her deep blue eyes rested on the child, then shot up to his face. The expression on her face was unreadable. Dismay, appreciation, surprise... he could not tell. Mayhap a combination of all three.

"Nay, they do not bother me.”

Her creamy skin flushed.

"Matthew, take Mark and Luke outside. The men are going for more firewood, and the children will be permitted to ride in the sleigh. Make sure you bundle them up good.”

After the three children left in a flurry of excitement and quick hugs and kisses of thanks for this indulgence, she remained, wringing her hands nervously in front of her. If only she knew how her actions called attention to her bosom, clearly outlined by her belted gunna!

"What ails ye, wench?” he inquired.

Her upper lip curled at his deliberate choice of words.

He barely suppressed a grin.

"I do not think it wise to encourage my children so.”

He arched an eyebrow in question.

"They yearn for a father... or leastways a man in their household. If they grow attached to you, well, when you go off to... well, when you leave, they will be bereft.”

He did not need her to explain what she meant. She referred to him not taking her to wife, but instead one of the other women... or no woman at all.

"Is that how they felt on the death of their fathers?”

She released a snort of disgust before she could stop herself. "My husbands were rarely home, and when they were, they could not be bothered with children. Nay, they would rather be off gambling, drinking and fornicating at royal orgies.”

"They are fine boys, Katherine. Your husbands must have been blind.” Blind where you are concerned, too, my beautiful lady, if you find favor in my appearance.

"Do you want me to take John?”

He glanced down at the sleeping boy and shook his head. "No need to awaken him. Sit down. You are making me nervous, fidgeting so.”

She muttered something under her breath and sank down to the bench beside him. Not too close, but close enough for him to smell the lavender of her soap.

"You smell good,” he remarked before he could bite his fool tongue.

Her gaze that had been centered somewhere beneath his chin but above his belt jerked up, and the pink of her cheeks darkened. "Dost tease me, rogue?”

He shook his head. "Nay, I know you are not in the running.”

"The running?”

"Yea, the ‘Bolthor’s Bride’ lackbrained scheme of Alinor’s.”

A small smile tugged at her enticing lips, and a dimple popped out to the left of her mouth. "What makes you think I am not... what did you call it?... in the running?”

He shrugged. "Mostly you ignore me or prick me with sarcastic remarks. Does that sound like a woman on the hunt?”

"Woman on the hunt? Is that how you view the women that Alinor invited here?”

"How could I not? They ride my tail like a hunter on a boar’s scent.”

Again, the enticing dimple appeared. "Do not judge them so harshly. We live in a society that forces women into matrimony, lest they lose all. They... we... are desperate.”

He cocked his head to the side. "What do you lose if you do not wed again... for a fourth time, I think Alinor said?”

She bristled at the reminder of her numerous weddings, but then she sighed deeply as she reached over to brush some stray strands of hair off John’s sleep-flushed face. "Everything,” she confessed. "I lose everything.”

Bolthor did not like the sound of that, but then women ofttimes exaggerated. "Explain.”

"I have a small estate... actually three small estates... passed to my sons, from their fathers, but they are nigh ruined. As poor as the holdings are, there are those who would easily take them because of the lack of protection. In addition, I have made an enemy of King Edgar, my fourth cousin. He will order me to wed again. Soon. And I wager it will be with the most unsavory character, just for spite. Thus, I need a strong man for protection, and one with coin, to replenish the Wickshire coffers.”

"So, you hope to usurp the king’s authority?”

"In a way.” He could tell she did not like his choice of words.

"Exactly what did you do to offend the king?”

She grinned, and out came that blasted dimple, which he had the odd desire to lick. "He invited me to court... one of those invitations that could not be refused, and when I refused to attend one of his drunken feasts, he remarked that I was too old and unattractive for his guests anyways. And I said something about the size of his... man part.”

Bolthor chuckled. "Yea, that would be enough to offend any man, let alone a king.”

She eyed him speculatively. "Are you in the market for a wife?”

For a brief moment, he considered lying to her. The woman was a tasty morsel. She would without a doubt make a good bedmate. But, nay, she... and her children... deserved more. "I will not wed again. Ever.”

"Again?”

"Most people do not know, but I was married many years ago. When my wife and two daughters died, I vowed never to marry again or have any other children. Thus far, I have kept that vow.”

"That is ridiculous!”

"You would not think so if you knew the manner in which they passed to the other world, and, nay, I will not discuss this further.”

She seemed about to argue, but then shrugged. "So be it. I will just have to find someone else.”

"Someone else?” he sputtered out. Why that surprised him, he had no idea. Did he think she would give up her quest just because he was not available?

"Yea. There are many men here who would suffice. Mayhap you could help me narrow the field down.”

Holy Thor! She wants me to help her find a man to marry. When Muspell freezes over! "I do not think so.”

She shrugged again and stood, preparing to take the now restless John in her arms.

"Just out of curiosity, who are these other men?”

"Finn Finehair, for one.”

"Pffff! The man is so vain he trims his manhairs,” he said without thinking aforehead about the appropriateness of such an observation, even if it was true.

Katherine’s eyes widened. "Well, vanity does not rule him out as a good protector. Then I have been eyeing Sigurn the Destroyer. Certainly, he has a fine record for fighting.”

"But have you ever smelled his breath?” Bolthor scrooched up his nose with distaste. "Smells like gammelost, it does. And he rarely bathes.”

"Well, I ne’er heard of body odors being cause to exclude a groom. Surely, there is naught you can find wrong with Bjorn the Pole. Though what an odd name for a man!”

Bolthor could not help but grin.

"What?”

"The pole referred to is his sizeable... um, pole.”

She made a huffing sound of disgust. She had John in her arms now and was patting his back as he whined in his half-sleep state.

Bolthor rose, too, and was about to go outside and help gather firewood. A keep this size needed an endless supply to last through the winter.

"Before I depart, I would leave this thought with you. Not that I have offered myself to you... I am still assessing the market, but know this, Bolthor. Losing me may be your greatest mistake.”

Long after she was gone, and he was out in the biting cold, her words haunted him. He already felt the loss.

That evening, annoyed for some reason by Katherine flitting around, talking to one knight or hersir after another, Bolthor stood and announced that he had a new poem to recite to the crowds in the Dragonstead great hall. "Hear one and all, this is the saga of ‘Fickle Women.’”

Women are fickle, that is a fact.

They knock on your heart, then attack.

Starting in the Garden of Eden with Eve so supple.

’Twas she who lured Adam with that sinful apple.

Once men surrender, the women wander.

Lots more better men, o’er yonder.

With swaying hips, they jiggle a breast.

Make a man think that he is the best.

Once they have them, meek and mild,

Off they go in pursuit of men more wild.

Here is the moral of this ode:

Never let a woman turn you into a pet toad.

Despite the cheers of the crowd, he knew immediately that his poem was a mistake. He never should have underestimated the wiliness of a thwarted woman.

Katherine, now up at the head table, whispered in Alinor’s ear.

Alinor grinned like a cat that had swallowed all the cream and stood. "Great news! Katherine tells me that she has a talent for poems, too.”

The crowd burst into enthusiastic applause, encouraging her to put aside shyness and share her talent with them. Hah! This woman had not been shy a day of her life.

Katherine stood and glanced his way, batting her eyelashes as if in apology.

For what?

He soon found out.

Men, men, men!

When will they learn?

Women know what they do when out of sight.

They spit, they swear, they belch,

They gamble, lie, and break wind,

They swive, swive, swive.

And all the while, the miscreants

Leave wives and sweetlings at home.

Weeping with loneliness, sad of heart.

Hah!

Hear me well, all you errant men.

Methinks you would be surprised to learn

What the mice are doing whilst the cat is away.

The men in the hall seemed stunned into silence, but the ladies were hooting and cheering with glee.

A red-faced Bolthor looked at Katherine with new eyes, and began to ponder, Just how ironclad is my vow?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...

"He is the one,” Katherine declared.

"Are you sure?” Alinor asked.

"There are so many men to choose from,” Eadyth pointed out. "The wisest course would be to take your time and meet them all.”

"Bolthor is the one I want,” Katherine insisted.

"Some would say his skaldic skills make him an object of humor, not desire,” Alinor pointed out in a kindly fashion. "Do his poems not bother you?”

Katherine frowned. "Why would they?”

"To put it plainly, they stink.”

A gasp was Katherine’s answer to that remark. "Surely you jest. His poems are wonderful. ’Tis one of the things I like best about him.”

Alinor and Eadyth exchanged looks of surprise.

"And what are the other things you like about him?” Eadyth inquired.

"He is good with children.”

"Ahhhh,” both Alinor and Eadyth said, acknowledging that fondness for children was a great attribute for a husband, especially when the children were not his.

"And what else?” Alinor prodded.

"There is a sorrow deep inside him that calls to my woman sympathies.” Katherine placed a hand over her heart, just thinking about it.

"There is?” Alinor’s eyebrows were raised with disbelief. "Other than his recent bout of verse mood blockage, I have rarely seen Bolthor sad of spirit.”

"Oh, ’tis there, of that I am certain. No doubt due to the tragic death of his wife and daughters.”

"What?” Alinor and Eadyth exclaimed as one.

"In all the years I have known Bolthor, ne’er have I met a wife or daughter, or heard mention of such,” Alinor mused.

"’Twas a long, long time ago, and apparently their manner of death was soul searing.”

"Hmmm.” Eadyth put a fingertip to her mouth in contemplation. "It makes sense, though. ’Tis not normal for a Viking man to go unwed for so long.”

"Do not mention it to anyone,” Katherine cautioned. "If he has kept it secret, he must not want others to know.”

"And yet he told you,” Alinor said, also with a forefinger tapping her closed lips.

"Of course, I am no longer a young woman, and I now know that appearance is the least important attribute for a husband, but, by the saints! The man is bone-melting handsome.” Katherine nigh swooned just picturing Bolthor in her mind.

"Good Lord!” Alinor remarked.

"Yea, Bolthor most definitely must be the one for you.” Eadyth patted Katherine on the hand.

"That settles it. We must needs come up with a plan,” Alinor added.

"I thought you already had a plan... Bolthor's Bride,” Katherine said.

"Yea, but now that we have settled on exactly who that bride will be, we must needs have a new plan to snare the man, without his realizing that he is being snared.”

"I see,” Katherine said, though she truly did not. "Keep in mind, Bolthor says he will not wed again.”

Alinor and Eadyth both laughed.

"What?”

"Surely you know that smart women know how to change a man’s mind,” Alinor explained.

"They do?” Katherine felt out of her depth with these two wily women. "How?”

"First off, you must avoid Bolthor, but not be out of sight. Let him see you with other men. Let him think you are interested, or even intimate, with other men.” This was Alinor’s advice. "Men always want what they cannot have.”

"It sounds so... devious.”

"Hah! I pretended I was a witch one time,” Alinor said. "Now that is devious.”

"That is nothing. I pretended to be dead.” Eadyth laughed in remembrance. "Believe you me, that brought Eirik to heel in an instant. Then, too, I pretended to be an aged crone before that.”

Not to be outdone, Alinor said, "I tied Tykir to a chair, by his own hair. Naked.”

"But do not think that women are the only ones to play this game. Eirik told me one time that the best way for a woman to make a man’s staff stand to attention was for her to stand on her head, naked.”

Alinor hooted her opinion of that lackwit theory.

Katherine clicked her mouth shut when she realized she was gaping.

"You must learn to tease, subtly,” Alinor suggested. "By dress, for example.” She pinched in the waist of Katherine’s gunna, then showed her how to pleat the fabric just up to and under her breasts so that her waist, the flare of her hips, and her bosom were outlined.

"I would appear wanton.” Katherine had never dressed in such a provocative manner. Why would she? She had been wed more times than she would have chosen, to men she would as soon repel as attract.

"That is the point,” Eadyth said. "But not in a blatant manner. Tease, but do not flaunt.”

Katherine let out an exhale of frustration, not sure if she could manage this game of seduction.

"That is not all,” Alinor went on.

Wonderful!

"When you do come into his presence, by accident, brush against him, then blush and apologize profusely,” Alinor suggested.

"She could even touch him in passing... his thigh, a buttock, even his manpart,” Eadyth added.

"Yea, that would be good.”

"How subtle would that be?” Katherine observed.

"Believe me, you could do it in such a way as to appear by chance,” Alinor said. "Stand over here, Eadyth, and pretend you are Bolthor. We will demonstrate.”

Eadyth stood stiff as a board, frowning, while Alinor brushed past her, carrying a bundle of linens that she almost dropped, but in the process of balancing herself, let her fingertips brush across the groin area. Immediately, she said, "My apologies, Bolthor,” and batted her eyelashes innocently.

Several other scenarios were played out. Alinor being pushed against Bolthor in a crowd and "accidentally” grabbing his buttock. "Bolthor” reaching for a sweetmeat on her tray, which she jerked at the last second, causing his hand to caress her breast.

"Of course, if all else fails, bed the man, good and well,” Eadyth advised.

"There is one bedsport trick I have learned,” Alinor said, "which is guaranteed to make a man’s eyes roll back in his head.”

Eadyth and Katherine were all ears, not to mention a few of the passing maids.

In the end, they were all laughing like lackwits.

Bolthor did not stand a chance.

Katherine hoped.

Viking men aren't as dumb as you might think...

Watching from across the room where they were cleaning their weapons, Eirik and Tykir said as one, "Uh-oh!”

"Methinks you are in big trouble, Bolthor,” Eirik elaborated.

"Huh? Why me?”

"My wife has that sly look in her eyes,” Tykir noted. "That usually means she is up to no good... especially regarding men... or me in particular.”

"Why is it not you this time?” Bolthor asked.

"Because it is Katherine they are advising, and everyone knows that Katherine wants you.” Eirik continued polishing his sword as he spoke.

"Everyone does not know that,” Bolthor protested, putting aside the long knife he had been honing with a hand-held whetstone. "She is considering the merits of every unattached male here.”

"Keep telling yourself that.” Tykir laughed at what he must consider Bolthor’s naiveness. He tested the sharpness of his sword by slicing a thin sliver off the edge of the table.

"Did I ever tell you my ‘Ode to Sly Women’?”

Tykir groaned before catching himself. "You have certainly gotten over your verse mood famine,” he grumbled.

"Perchance Katherine is the cause of his new wordiness,” Eirik teased.

"Hear one and all, this is the ‘Ode to Sly Women’,” Bolthor began.

Most men think they are so smart

And indeed they are,

But put them in a room with women,

And all wit goes out the smoke hole.

Women are sly and not above tricks

When it comes to catching a man.

Beware of swaying hips, jiggling breasts,

Bouncing backsides, slippery tongues,

Proffered kisses, lewd talk, sloe eyes,

Sweet scented skin, low-cut gunnas,

Exposed ankles...

Tykir cut him off with a laugh. "Well, you certainly covered all points with that poem. In truth, it caused my juices to boil. Methinks I will go drag Alinor to our bedchamber and see how sly she can be.”

"Good idea, brother,” Eirik said.

They both got up, their weapon care forgotten.

Bolthor was left alone to stare across the hall at the sly woman who was deliberately not trying to seduce him.

 


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