Last Tales of Mercia 5: Osgifu the Sister, страница 1
Last Tales of Mercia 5:
Osgifu the Sister
Copyright 2012 Jayden Woods
Edited by Malcolm Pierce
The ten Last Tales of Mercia are stand-alone stories featuring real historical figures and characters from the Sons of Mercia series. You may read them independently as quick glimpses into an ancient world or as an introduction to the novel, Edric the Wild. For more news and updates on the Sons of Mercia series, visit www.jaydenwoods.com.
Two warm, sturdy arms seemed to reach from Osgifu’s dreams before closing gently around her. A smile lit her face as her body stirred to wakefulness. She felt the warm rays of sunshine beaming through the window shutters. The musky aroma of her husband, Godric, washed over her as he pulled her close and kissed her neck. The coarse stubble around his lips brushed her tender skin. She laughed and squirmed in his grip. “That tickles!”
In response, he kissed her again and tightened his hold on her. She struggled playfully, lashing him with her long red hair, then using her predicament as an excuse to turn around and face him.
At first glance, Godric looked almost boyish in the gentle light of the sun rise. His blue eye glittered mischievously. Short golden hairs shone upon his chin, a pleasant contrast to the dark roots of hair from his forehead. His long brown hair paled easily in the sunlight, which explained why it had almost been blond when she first saw him return from the land of Jomsvikings. The memory made her heart pound and her blood warm; she remembered how handsome he had been that day when she saw him in a Lundenburg church, still in his teen years but already a man in every conceivable way. She had been taken with him ever since, despite the fact he had cursed and grumbled in the house of God, and even voiced his intention to murder someone.
Now forty-five, Godric was still as handsome as ever, though many years of war and hardship had certainly taken their toll. Osgifu reached up and ran her hands through his hair, which had always been a blend of browns and yellows; now it also carried streaks of gray. Next her fingers brushed over his shoulder and torso, jagged with scars. Then her touch trailed back up his chest, over the jut of his throat, towards the knot of scars on one side of his face that had once been his right eye.
He reached up and grabbed her hand, stopping its ascent. “Osgifu,” he said simply. Then he pushed her down and rolled on top of her.
He smothered her laughter with a kiss, quickly transforming her mirth into a new sensation entirely. The weight of his body enveloped her, pinning her, so that her every attempt to escape only increased her contact with him and made her a more willing captive. She sighed with release as he pushed his hips against hers, making his urgency evident, and trailed kisses down her neck. He propped himself with one arm, his muscles rippling down its girth, as he reached to free himself with the other.
“Mother ... ?”
Godric froze, making them all too aware of the sound of the door as it swung open, then the pitter-patter of a boy’s little feet.
“EDRIC!” Godric’s cry of rage seemed to shatter the rest of the world into silence. Osgifu caught only a glimpse of Edric’s red curls trailing behind him as he turned and ran. Then Godric jumped up, pulling on a pair of trousers with incredible speed. “So much for building our own room!” he snarled, and lunged after his fleeing son.
Osgifu sighed, trying to replace her own disappointment with sympathy for nine-year-old Edric. She listened to the echoes of Godric’s yelling through the door as she hastened to pull on her own dress. “Best go easy on him, Godric!” she called. “I’m getting too old to conceive another child!”
Any further jests died on her tongue as soon as she stepped into the main hall and saw why Edric had interrupted them in the first place.
A strange man cowered near the door of the hall. He had scraggly hair and raggedy clothes, and Osgifu doubted he had bathed or eaten a good meal in months. The stranger stared at Godric with terrified eyes, yet refused to budge from his spot.
The expression on Godric’s face was far more terrifying. Shirtless and bristling with muscle, Godric looked prepared to murder the man with his bare hands. Without a doubt, the two men knew one another.
“Edric.” Osgifu crouched and reached for her son, whom Godric had forgotten in the presence of the intruder. Edric gladly ran to his mother’s arms. His face was red from the effort of not crying and he trembled in her grasp.
“I’m sorry!” he wailed. “But that man came in and I didn’t know what to do!”
“You did the right thing, Edric.” Osgifu held him close, shielding him as she walked towards her husband.
“Go back to our room, Osgifu.” Godric spoke without looking at her, his voice a low growl.
“I will not,” she said, even as her legs quaked beneath her. Then she fixed her gaze on the stranger. “Please, tell us who you are and what you want.”
Godric snorted. “You won’t get a response from him. He doesn’t talk.”
Only Edric’s weight against Osgifu’s arms gave her the strength to stay standing. Her head spun dizzily. Years ago, when Osgifu left a nunnery and agreed to marry Godric, she did so with the understanding that he would be honest and true to her in all things. For that reason he had told her everything about his first marriage with Osgifu’s sister, Elwyna. He had described a slave that didn’t speak yet somehow managed to start an affair with Elwyna while Godric was away from home. “So this is Dumbun,” she gasped.
Godric finally turned and looked at her. His one eye gleamed dangerously even as his face pleaded with her. “Please, Osgifu. Leave us alone.”
“I can’t do that.”
Godric had tried to adopt a peaceful way of life once he married her, but Osgifu knew certain urges would never go away. It was a miracle Dumbun had survived Godric’s original discovery of the affair in the first place. Her instincts assured her that if she left the room now, she would return to find a dead body.
She turned her attention back to Dumbun. “Is this about my sister?” she asked. “Is Elwyna all right?”
Dumbun bowed his head and shook it slowly.
“Oh God.” Overwhelmed, Osgifu released Edric. “Go outside now,” she bade him. “Do your chores.”
Edric seemed all too happy to obey, for by doing so he could flee his father’s wrath as well as the strange man standing near the doorway. He scurried outside and vanished.
“You look nearly starved,” said Osgifu to Dumbun. “Why don’t you take a seat and I’ll get you some bread.”
Dumbun made a slight movement toward the table, his desperation apparent. Then Godric pounced. He grabbed Dumbun’s shoulders while jabbing upwards with his knee. He struck Dumbun deep in the belly, then shoved him to the floor. A little groan escaped the slave’s throat as he dropped, his body as limp as a puppet with its strings cut.
“This man does not get to eat at my table,” snarled Godric. Then his hand curled into a fist. He crouched to land another blow.
“Godric, no! This is about my sister!” Osgifu’s hands on Godric’s back were the only successful deterrent from further violence. He stopped and turned to look at her, eyes blazing with rage he could not restrain. But the longer he stared at Osgifu, the more his anger faded. “If he can’t eat at the table,” she said, “then he will eat outside.”
Godric’s tension unwound beneath her touch. His hand uncurled and fell to his side. He closed his eyes, as if to stop himself from looking at Dumbun, while he stood and turned away.
“I want him gone before no