Night had overcome day. It was the same to you, a mere servant in Algeciras. It didn’t mattered night or day: your employer ordered and you obeyed. Thus you were on the market, fulfilling your chores by buying fruits and vegetables.
It was a cheerful evening. The darkness of the time dispelled by lamps and fires. Some traders were showing their merchandise with pride. Your eyes lingered on some silks of great opulence. You fantasized about the soft fabric on your skin, yet your poverty prevented any chance of getting them. You continued your walk. The mosaic of reds, yellows and greens was enriched by delicious smells of spices; the best peppers, apples, garlics, dates, olives… You caught a glance of women dancing, as well as a man with a snake. It was twisting around his body and it looked at you, which made you speed up your pace.
You passed through the forest of market stands, each of them decorated with cloths and a thousand of cords and frills. You wanted to buy oranges, but the merchant you usually got them from was nowhere to be found. Isolated from the general joy, you only hoped the night would end soon to meet your bed and rest.
You didn’t notice the change of air, absorbed in your own thoughts. You passed a particular stand that stole your attention. They had different oils in store, ones for cooking, and others for the body. They had a nice sugary aroma. Still the seller you were looking for was unseen.
You felt a thud on your shoulder and you stumbled. The man looked horrified, and was practically running. He didn’t even mutter an apology. You ignored him and kept your way, although it made you uneasy.
At the same time the oranges caught your glance, the sudden screams caught your ears.
You were confused, people crushing one against the other, babbling incoherent things. Your mind wasn’t processing correctly the events but knew something bad was happening. Everybody was leaving the market, but all known refuge for you was too far away. You ran and took shelter under one of the tables, well hidden with the fabric that hung from the edge of the wood. The cries intensified.
You lied down to take a look between the hem of the fabric and the ground. You saw boots, boots that certainly you did not recognised as usual in the lands you were living. One stepped too close to you and you shut your eyes in fear. All the same, you tried again, forcing your eyes open. You lifted the cloth barely an inch… yet it was enough to reveal the cause of the commotion.
The men were tall and strong. They had leather clothes, an attire far different from the light robes you were accustomed to see every day. They were of fair skin and fair hair. You recognised them quickly. The stories of these northern men and women who devastated anything within their reach had been widely spread. You knew each of the tales and took special care in learning the details.
You weren’t unfamiliar to pillaging. In the far place of your birth it was common. Cities and tribes were in constant war; they had been rough times. You were still a child when your home was destroyed and were forced to work as a servant, and ever since you had roamed many kinds of soil. You suppressed the unpleasant memories of your childhood and closed your eyes again.
If you were unperceived, there would be a chance- a small one, but still a chance- that you could survive this. You tried to pray, but it was useless; the gods you asked for help in the past were long gone. You were alone.
The string of amber light poked your eyelids, but you didn’t dare to succumb; it was easier to pretend to feel safe if you didn’t see them. The noise didn’t cease, and some laughs and sway of swords were added to it. Your curiosity was stronger than your fear, therefore you peeked, even if it was not your wisest option.
There was a chaos of people, both dead and alive. You had to contain your own voice, too overwhelmed by the unknown faces covered in blood.
You saw one of them taking a yellow fruit, a prudent distance separating you from him. His dark blond hair was braided leaving his face uncovered. He looked different than the rest, for his expression lacked the crudeness that a thousand of battles provide, maybe because of his youth. Nevertheless, he was intimidating; you wouldn’t want him to discover you.
Without previous warning, a man charged at the Viking you were observing. He wielded his curved knife with pride, but you knew he was scared.
The Viking defended himself with his shield, and in a blur one of his fellows helped him. They both stabbed the attacker at the same time. His comrade was bigger, and looked furious. By the looked they exchanged neither of them looked happy yet they continued their assault. The blond man watched the other go and took a deep breath.
Then his eyes met yours.
You thought at first it wouldn’t be possible; the shadows would not let him recognize your shape. But there was not a doubt that his pupils were aimed at you. Clear as the stars upon the dark sky, he had caught a glimpse of you. A shiver of fear run through your body. You were unable to move. On the other hand, he looked curious yet calmed, menacing yet reassuring…
And he simply moved away.
He had smiled at you before putting his feet into use. You couldn’t have gotten off from the strip of light quicker. You opted for a position where you would pass unseen, even if it kept you blind. Your stomach turned around without a break. You didn’t know the meaning of that glance, if he was coming for you or if he would let you live. Your hand found your mouth as you cursed yourself for taking such risks, and drowned a sob.
You remained hidden, huddled up in the ground. There was nothing else you could do. The sounds were still there, but their nature was softer; the invaders would have gone to the richest houses, where great treasures lied and the beauties of both men and women were undeniable. A growl from a dying man caught your ears but you decided not to listen to anything. You would stay still; you would wait until either your salvation or doom would come.
It was a torture to be clueless about the inaction.
You didn’t know how much time had passed but the uproar returned. Your hands shook uncontrollably at the foreign words that seemed to intone a song. Under the horrible voices of the invaders there was a weep. It was the tears and sobbing of women. You had understood it long time ago: victors had no pity for the defeated. Still, being reminded of it once again made your heart sunk. Distracted by your own mind, you didn’t realise you weren’t alone. In the shadows there was something else sliding around. You yelped as cold scales touched your skin.
You looked at the snake, the same one that man had been showing off. It got scared and went away, yet the damage had already been done. You were horrified. You cursed under your breath; you gave yourself away with that noise. It was impossible, despite all the fuss of the Northmen, that none had heard you.
You looked at the cloth hanging. Behind it, there was a shape moving.
It was coming towards you.
The fabric was lifted in the slowest of ways, revealing a man. Leather boots, a red shirt, a shield and a sword, a vest… and a tattooed face. His hair was dark and his expression had a sadistic pleasure as if you were a hidden treasure. You blood froze in your veins.
He was muttering, but you didn’t understand his language. He acknowledged it, so motioned you get out of your shelter with one strong gesture. You crawled in his direction. The outcome would not be delayed anymore for you. The man stepped aside, watching after you to check if you had anything of value in your hiding place.
On the floor, as a gift from fortune, there was a discarded knife. You saw it as soon as the light of the lamps lit your head. Discreetly you pressed the handle with your hand and concealed it between your skirts as you stood up.
Once you were before the man, he walked closer. He raised his sword. He used the edge, he brushed it against your stomach. He continued, the cold metal reaching your neck through the sides of your body. The blade was dyed in a scarlet liquid and smelt of death and putrefaction. You gulped since the centre of your throat was being threatened by the sword.
Your face hadn’t flashed any emotion but shock and distrust. Your eyebrows were frowned, your lips pressed into a thin line. A part of you wished he’d end your life right there, another still had some hope left. The Northman acted like he was enjoying himself. He had heard too much screaming during the night and a silent prey intrigued him.
He put his sword away and walked even closer. You were about to use the knife. That was the only escape you could see, the only chance you could risk… But you were unable to bring the sharp edge to the man in front of you. You tried again with more force and you felt it.
A hand was wrapped around you wrist.
You turned your head and your eyes met a familiar face: the blonde Viking that had seen you. He had a smirk upon his face. He waggled your arm, the metal shining under the lamplights. The other man let out a deep guffaw, but your glance didn’t flutter.
The blond flipped your body. You observed his features in detail and took everything in. His eyes were clear, an uncommon feature in the south, but it was often seen in the colder realms. His facial hair was not developed. He was a young man, a very young one. The skin of her cheeks was bruised, dirt covering the rest of his countenance. His appearance reminded you of his raid, otherwise you would have got lost in his beauty, a dangerous position.
He sensed your fascination. His voice made a command you didn’t recognise, but the dark haired man left you and joined a passing group. He talked to you, his tone deep and enveloping, like a river flowing your senses. You were confused, not catching any meaning.
His hand was still wrapped around your arm. He was toying with you, measuring your reactions. He did the unexpected. He guided the knife to his chest. He placed it just above his heart and freed your limb.
You saw the challenge burning in his pupils. It was the only thing that entered your vision: the city was no longer burning and the Vikings were gone. It would be easy, stabbing him. It would be even easier met the world of the dead yourself, avoiding any further misfortune. However you didn’t have the nerve to carry out any of your choices. You were scared of both. Thus, you dropped the knife, your hand trembling. Your expression displayed a look of utter anger. In the past you had been defeated, and in the present you were once again; it was a condemn that followed wherever you went.
He grabbed your cheeks and squeezed. He shouted more foreign words.
With a push he dismissed you. Another invader attached your wrists to the passing parade of weeping women and the blond was out of sight. The rope stung your skin.
It was clear, the difference between you and those captured; they were noble girls and women who wore precious shawls and dresses. They radiated opulence, while you radiated servitude. You wanted to ask them for their well-being, you wanted to forget the hopelessness. Most of them ignored you, others deemed your presence a nuisance. You recognised a few from the feasts you had been serving. None said anything; no comfort expressions, no empathy, nothing. As an outsider you were used to it. It was not likely to change.
The disappearance of your equals in slavery at strange hands didn’t bother you. You saw the coming and going with tedium. You didn’t have the will to keep going, and the idea of slumber which could numb you was seducing you.
The captured were waiting on the outer side of the wall, waiting. It made you sick. The big red and white arch was forever lost- you’d never see it again. You leant onto the stone. Eyes half closed, the weight of the day over your shoulders, you almost saw the vision of better days… Until you were grasped and picked up roughly.
You cursed and the chuckle that met your ears belonged to no other than the young Viking. You supposed he had claimed your body for himself. The reason, a complete mystery for you. He had his arm around your waist. You took notice of the ships before you; you were being guided to them. It resembled a nobleman escorting his lady. His fingers clung to you, nearly brushing your skin. Even then, your body involuntary welcomed the warmth, for wherever there was water, an icy breeze cut through the night.
The wood of the port cracked under your feet. He was conversing and it was driving you mad.
“I do not understand you. Stop talking to me!” You grunted. He smirked; maybe it was his aim, to make you talk. You didn’t cared, the lack of communication was feeding the uncertainty, slowly consuming your guts.
He helped you to get in the vessel. You were glad this man was interested in you and not any of the others; some of the slaves were just kicked onto the deck. He pointed at a corner where a jumble things was gathered; you supposed they were his belongings. He was already going away, yet fear caught you. Would you be alone all the voyage with these savage men?
You pulled the shirt under his vest to get his attention out of reflex. It was a stupidity: you didn’t even have the possibility of communicating with him.
He was turned around, his mouth agape. A second later his lips curled. He gave you back the knife. He apparently had taken it from the ground. You took it, hiding it in your clothes. He bent over.
“Hvitserk.” Was all he whispered. You didn’t comprehend what it was, but you’d remember it. It was the only thing you could cleave to.
He vanished in that moment.
You sat next to some blankets and a few golden ornaments. You dwelled on why this young man had taken a liking on you, and if it had any benefit- you weren’t even chained. You dwelled on your return to slavery. You dwelled on where they were taking you; you had thought at first they’d use you and kill or leave you… But you were on a ship, ready to change your location. Besides, why would your own captor would give you a blade to defend yourself?
Bundles and ropes flied around you. Your chest tightened with each load, each man ready to go. You didn’t feel threatened, though. You believed it was the knife, firmly pressed against your body. Still, it was more complex. Whatever was ahead, it didn’t look like a new torture. It was an adventure, it would change your life. You had lost your fear in favour of thrill.
He came back long after. The ships were ready to sail to their new destination: the Mediterranean Sea. It had been a fruitful raid, and he was content with the decision of following Björn.
He found you asleep, lying against blankets. He took his time to study you. Your eyes, your hair, your face and your clothes. There was something in you he liked. Something in the way you had hidden, something in the way you hold a knife against his fellow member of the expedition, how you refused to hurt him.
You weren’t from a rich environment, that he was sure. He didn’t have to look at you twice to confirm it. But just as his father had taken that monk to his land, he had the feeling he had to take you. He would worry later about the result of his whim.