Stolen by the Viking
The heavy slave collar hung around Breanne Ó Callahan’s throat. Her mouth was dry from thirst, and she could hardly remember how long it had been since she was taken captive. The days blurred into one another, for she had been stolen from her foster home and sold into slavery. The trader had locked her in chains, and she had travelled for days in a wagon with the other women. She knew that he intended to sell her in the marketplace at Áth Cliath, for he could get a higher price for her there.
Exhaustion weighed upon her, and her body ached from bruises where she’d been beaten. It had been especially humiliating when they had taken her to the healer. Although it had been a woman who had touched her, her cheeks still burned at the memory. The healer had verified her virginity, and Breanne knew it was the only reason she had not yet been raped. The slaver knew that he could command a higher price for her innocence. She tried to clear her mind of the terrors rising and the fear of being held down and raped by a stranger this night.
Breanne clenched her hands together in a vain attempt to keep them from shaking. Thus far, no one had come for her. She had searched in vain for any sign that her foster father had sent men to save her. They might not know where she was being held captive. With each day that had passed, her hope had begun to fade.
Do not surrender, she warned herself. Not yet.
There might be a chance at escape with so many people in the marketplace. She held fast to the frail hope, even as they dragged the first woman on to the auction block. Breanne did not know her name, but the girl began to sob at her fate.
The trader called out the woman’s value and stripped her naked in the marketplace. The girl whimpered when he extolled the virtue of her slender body and soft breasts. He turned her around, and there was no denying the lustful gazes of the men.
Breanne turned her attention to the crowd of people, searching for a way out. There were a dozen wooden carts rolling through the streets, and if she could only get to one of them without being noticed, she might hide herself among the barrels or beneath the straw. She would have only precious seconds to act, and only then if she could break free. Her wrists and ankles were chained together, but if she shortened her stride, she could still run. All she had to do was wait until the woman before her was sold. She was last among the women, a lucky place, for soon there would be no one chained to her and she might be able to flee.
Her brain warned that it would be nearly impossible to escape notice. Not if she was running with an armful of chains. But even so, she tried to keep up her courage. If she imagined the alternative, the panic would rise up and overpower what little courage she had left.
The first woman was sold to a fat merchant, and he seized her hair as he pulled her forward. He groped her bare breast, laughing before he covered her body with a rough shift. Breanne suppressed a shudder. During the auction, her gaze fixed upon a row of three carts. One of them might serve as a place to hide—but first, she needed to create a distraction.
An outdoor peat fire burned nearby, and she spied another cart filled with straw. A fire, she decided. It would allow her to flee unnoticed while the others attempted to put out the blaze.
The second woman was sold, then the third. But before the fourth climbed up to the block, Breanne saw a taller man drawing near. His dark hair hung to his shoulders, and his piercing blue eyes stared at her. He appeared to be one of the Lochlannach, a fierce warrior from across the sea. His skin held a darker tone, and an iron chain containing three hammers encircled his throat. He looked like a man who had spent the entire summer upon the waters.
Breanne lifted her chin and stared back, refusing to let him intimidate her. A hint of a smile lifted his mouth, as if he had accepted her challenge. Danu¸ what if he attempted to buy her? It was clear that she had caught his interest. He appeared to be a man accustomed to getting his own way.
She noticed his strong hands and the way his shoulders filled his tunic. Unlike the fat merchant, there was no trace of weakness in his body. A vision flared in her mind, of being stripped naked before this man. Her body flushed at the thought. His blue eyes never left hers, and she felt a strange pull within her, as if he had somehow caressed her flesh without a single touch.
The warrior took another step closer, and this time, she noticed his slight limp. He wore armour, and a sword hung from his side. Who was he?
Her heartbeat pounded, and she had no more time to wonder, when the slaver dragged her up the stairs towards the block. He held the length of chain in his arms, and Breanne locked her gaze with the Lochlannach, wondering about his intentions. It would not matter. She would be no man’s possession.
She feigned weakness, reluctantly drawing close to the block. Though she continued to walk forward, she waited until she could feel her captor’s grip on the chain going slack as he prepared to strip her naked.
Breanne dived forward, leaping from the block towards the crowd. As she’d predicted, the unexpected motion jerked the chain from the slaver’s hands. She lunged through the crowd of onlookers, making her way towards the wooden carts ahead.
Many tried to stop her, but she shoved her way past them. The weight of the manacles on her wrists and ankles impeded her movement, but she would do anything to escape.
But a moment later, a hand caught her chains and dragged her backwards. Breanne fought to free herself, but the chains held fast.
‘Let me go,’ she gritted out, but she could not move. When she turned around, she saw the face of the Lochlannach. His expression was unyielding, like iron.
He wrapped the chain around his arm, making it impossible for her to escape him. His blue eyes were chips of ice, with no pity in them. Her heartbeat quickened, for she knew he would never release her.
‘Please,’ she begged.
He ignored her, holding the chains with one hand as she struggled to free herself. The slaver approached and raised his hand to strike her. Before his fist could make contact, the Lochlannach caught the man’s wrist and held it. He spoke in a foreign tongue she did not understand, but his tone brooked no argument. The slaver started to argue, but the Norseman ignored him. Instead, he reached into a pouch at his waist and withdrew a handful of coins. He placed them in the slaver’s palm, and the man’s protests were silenced.
And so, it was done. She had been bought by this Lochlannach. Hatred rose up within her at the thought of being this man’s slave or worse, his concubine. She struggled again to free herself, but it was no use. He kept the chain tight, securing her firmly at his side until he reached his horse. In one motion, he lifted her up, before he swung up behind her.
He spurred the animal and rode towards the outer edges of Áth Cliath. Throughout the short journey, he said nothing at all. She almost wondered if he was even capable of speaking her language. Her only consolation was that he had not attempted to touch her…yet.
The uneasiness inside her intensified, doubling her fears. He was a raider and a Norseman, one who would take whatever he wanted. Why had he bought her? She wanted to believe that it was only a moment of chance, a sudden whim.
But he had been watching her and waiting. He had stopped her from fleeing the slave market, and now, he had claimed her. Gods be merciful.
They reached the river, and he dismounted from his horse, lifting her down. Breanne wondered if she could dive into the water, but he dispelled any thoughts of escape by keeping her chains tight. Inwardly, she cursed the man for taking her. She wanted to return home to Killcobar, and now she might never see Feann again. He and her foster brothers were the only family she remembered, since her parents had died years ago. Was Feann even looking for her? Or worse, had he given her up for dead?
Her heart ached at the loss of her home and family. The pain welled up inside her, mingled with loneliness and fear. She knew not what would happen to her any more. It seemed as if her life had crumbled into pieces, scattering to the wind.
The Lochlannach led her towards the docks until they reached a small boat where another man waited for them. The vessel was not large, and the sail was tied up against the mast. Her captor lifted her inside, and she glanced down at the dark water, wondering if she had the courage to jump. The other man seemed to guess her thoughts, for he shook his head in warning.
The Norseman spoke to the other man in the language she did not know. Another flare of anxiety caught her, for she feared they might take her to their country. She might never see Éireann again, and the thought terrified her.
‘Who are you?’ she asked, even knowing that they might not understand her. The men lifted the anchor and began to row out to the open water. As she’d predicted, they did not answer her question. Once again, she eyed the water, wondering if she dared to jump. But then, the chains would only drag her down to the bottom of the river and cause her to drown.
Though it was still morning, the sky was dark and heavy with moisture. Clouds obscured the sun, and soon, fat raindrops splattered upon her. Breanne welcomed the water, trying to quench her thirst by opening her mouth. The Norseman seemed to notice, and he held out a drinking skin, tipping it against her mouth . She took a sip, and the water was stale but welcome. When she had finished, he took it back. Then he reached inside a wooden container and pulled out a heavy fur of seal skin. He lifted it over her, and she realised that it would shield her from the rain.
She was taken aback by the gesture. Why should he care if she were drenched from the rain? It poured over him and his shipmate, soaking through his dark hair. Though he rowed steadily, he kept his gaze fixed upon her.
His attention unnerved her, reaching deep within. Though he had bought her as his slave, she could not deny that he had shown kindness. And it was difficult to reconcile the two parts of this man. What did he want from her?
She remained still while the rain fell steadily. Both men were soaked now, but they appeared indifferent to the elements. When she eyed the other man, she saw that he was watching her with interest. There was no sense of surprise, as if he had expected to have a female slave aboard the ship. It made her question what else he knew.
Breanne huddled beneath the seal skin, and they continued to row until the river met the edge of the sea. Áth Cliath was now behind her, and she could see only a light fog and the water surrounding them everywhere. Once they were further out to sea, the Norseman gestured for her to put out her chained wrists. He withdrew an awl and a small hammer, and she understood his intention. Within moments, he had hammered out the pin and her chains fell to the bottom of the boat. Next, he removed her neck collar, and she rubbed at the chafed skin, feeling relief from the weight. Last, she extended her ankles, and he removed the chains there, as well.
Her wrists were raw, and she tried to ease the soreness. She didn’t quite know what to think of this man. True, there was nowhere she could run, now that they were nearing the open sea. Perhaps he’d meant to offer her comfort, and for that, she was grateful.
Even so, she could not dispel her suspicions. She was his captive, and he had no intention of freeing her. Was he trying to soften her distrust? Or perhaps he did not want her to fight him when he forced her to share his bed. Breanne swallowed hard, trying not to think of it.
During the journey to Áth Cliath, countless hands had groped her, and she had fought to protect herself. They had laughed at her, and she’d received a few bruises when she had struck back.
Breanne gripped the edges of the seal cloak, shutting her eyes to try to blot out what was to come. Though this journey would grant her somewhat of a reprieve from his attentions tonight, she did not doubt that the Lochlannach meant to use her for his own pleasure. His blue eyes stared upon her with interest, and her body prickled at the thought of his hands upon her bare flesh. She tried to dispel the thought, but the more he stared at her, the more she sensed that he would not be a brutal lover. Instead, she imagined those rough palms caressing her skin, arousing her. Without warning, her breasts tightened against the thin fabric of her shift and she caught her breath. He was handsome and stoic, a fierce warrior with undeniable strength. At the thought of him pressing her back against the sleeping furs, she could not suppress the unexpected response from her body.
And by the gods, she knew not what he would do to her.
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