King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 5, 6, 7

“I brought her aboard,” said Hund, finally able to command attention. “I hid her below decks. Shef, you were Thorvin’s apprentice. I was Ingulf’s apprentice. Now Svandis here is my apprentice. I ask you to protect her—as Thorvin protected you when the dogs of Ivar would have killed you.”

“If she is your apprentice why is she not wearing an apple, for Ithun, for leech-craft?” said Shef.

“Women are not apprentices,” growled Thorvin at the same moment.

“I can explain that,” said Hund. “But there are other things I need to explain too. Privately,” he added.

Shef nodded slowly. In all their experience he had never known Hund ask for anything for himself, not since the day Shef had pulled the slave-collar off his neck. Yet time and again he had done Shef service. He was owed a hearing. Silently Shef pointed forward to the closed space where they slung his hammock. He turned to Ordlaf, to Thorvin, to the watching crewmen and the dark-faced Arabs behind them.

“No more about stripping or putting over the side,” he ordered. “Serve the food out, Ordlaf. And send some forward to Hund and me too. As for her, put her in the aft compartment with two of your mates to watch her. You are responsible for her safety.

“Lady,” he added, “go where they show you.” For an instant she looked at him as if she were likely to strike him again. A fierce face, a familiar face. As she relaxed and dropped her eyes, Shef realized with death at his heart where he had seen it before. Glaring at him over a gangplank. She was the female image of the Boneless One, whom he had killed and burned to ashes so his ghost would never walk again. What was it that Hund had brought back from the past? If she were a draugr or one of the twice-born, he would take Thorvin’s advice after all. It would cheer the crew, dispersing sullenly now to their meal.

“Yes, she is Ivar’s daughter,” admitted Hund, in the dark, rocking privacy of the deck beneath the forward catapult-mount. “I realized that a while ago.”

“But how could he have a daughter? or any child? He could do nothing with women, that’s why they called him the Boneless One, he had no…”

“Oh yes he did,” corrected Hund. “You should know. You killed him by crushing them in your hand,”

Shef fell silent, remembering the last moments of his duel with Ivar.

“By the time we knew him,” Hund went on, “I think you are right, he could have no relations with women. But when he was younger, he could—if he hurt them a great deal first. He was one of those men—there are more of them than there should be, even in your kingdom—who are aroused by pain and fear. In the end the pain and fear were all he valued, and I believe that no woman given over to him could hope to survive. You saved Godive from that, you know,” he added with a penetrating stare. “He treated her well for a while, but from what I have heard that was only to get the keener enjoyment as her trust turned to fear: when the moment came.

“But it seems that in earlier years his demands were not so great. Women survived what he did to them. He may even have found one or two who cooperated with him, who had some deformity corresponding to his.”

“What, enjoyed being hurt?” grunted Shef disbelievingly. He had been hurt often himself. The man he was talking to had burned out his right eye with a red-hot needle, to prevent worse happening. He could not imagine any faint association of pleasure with pain.

Hund nodded, carrying on. “I think in the case of Svandis’s mother there may even have been some affection between them. Anyway, the woman conceived his child and lived to bear it. Though she died not long after, as Ivar’s needs grew stronger. Now Ivar valued Svandis extremely, maybe for her mother, maybe because she was living proof of his manhood. He took her with him in the great attack on England. But after the surprise at Bedricsward all the Ragnarssons sent their women, their real women, not the slave-lemmans they picked up, back to safety at the Braethraborg.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Categories: Harrison, Harry