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Kristin was positive her brother would scold, and he might even be upset enough with her to drag her over his knee and spank her like a little girl. He never had any compunction about doing so to his sweet, loving Siv when she displeased him, but it would be unbecoming for him to do so to Kristin now, especially when she needed his help so much. More than a bit frightened by her older brother’s possible reaction, Kristin approached the wall surrounding his castle with trepidation.
“Hold and identify yourself!” A man’s voice called out with authority, and Kristin immediately brought her mount to a standstill.
“I am the sister of Jarl Ulf; he is not expecting me, but I am here to implore his aid in a serious matter. Let me pass now,” she ordered far more sharply than she intended. She was tired and needed to seek a bed before she fell from her mount in an inglorious heap.
“I do not believe you,” the voice answered, and a large man appeared. “Where are the Jarl’s sire’s men who would guard his sister?” he demanded.
“I am alone, you dolt! Let me pass ere I tell my brother of your rudeness!” She tried to pass him, but he did not move, but instead reached up and pulled her from the mount’s back. Kristin was furious at what she considered a serious affront to her station in life. Without giving the matter contemplation, she swept her dainty foot behind his knee as she was taught to do, and then shoved on his chest at the same time, sending the large man sprawling on the ground. In the next second she was running as fast as she could make her small feet carry her toward the castle.
“Stop!” The man called after her, but she paid no heed to his words. He gave chase, cursing when he realized the petite blonde was very fast, especially for a female!
Kristin threw open the heavy door and entered the great hall, which was kept in an orderly fashion since her brother had married a wife who valued cleanliness and despised laziness. Ulf’s thralls now worked, and were happier than before. But, Kristin had no time to worry overmuch about the state of her brother’s hall. The large man from the gate was chasing her as if his very life depended upon his overtaking her and stopping her from reaching his Jarl. Kristin called loudly for her brother, certain of his protection if she could but wake him from his slumber. “Ulf! I need you at once!” She reached the door of his room and burst through the door just as the man from the gate grabbed her and lifted her off her feet. “Put me down, you buffoon! Did you not hear me tell you that I am Ulf’s sister?” she furiously demanded.
“Kristin!” Ulf was hasty to bring the bed coverings up to cover his lady wife, his sister having burst in upon them at a most inopportune time. “Is Father’s castle under siege?” he demanded, grabbing his under trousers to cover his nudity. “Leif, put my little sister down,” he ordered, wondering why the man would lift her in that manner. “Kristin, I am losing patience,” Ulf ordered, his voice booming within the chamber. “What trouble does our sire have?”
“Nay, Ulf. There is not trouble of that sort,” she explained. “Tis I who needs your help!” she explained.
Ulf studied her, head to toe, and then asked, “What help do you need, little one, that brings you barging into our chamber at this time of night?”
“Husband,” Siv said in her soft manner. “Your worry is making you sound harsh. Kristin, is someone after you?” she asked.
“Nay, sister, not at this moment, I pray! Father seeks to wed me to a man I have not met!”
“And Magnus permitted you to come in the middle of the night to inform me of this?” Ulf roared. His manhood was still throbbing inside his under trousers, and he was well aware that his wife’s lovely body was naked and his for the taking underneath the skins covering her.
“Ulf, your sister arrived without your sire’s men!” Leif was more than happy to tattle on the little wench. “I did not believe her when she claimed to be your sister for this reason; I thought she concealed a dagger under her cloak and meant you or your lady wife harm. I did order her to stop, but she attacked me and ran for the castle, increasing my concern for your safety.”
“I appreciate your diligence, my friend. Why did not my man bring this to my attention?” Ulf asked.
“I regret to say that I found his post unguarded, Ulf. I know not where he is.”
“He will be dealt with in the morn. Seek your room, Leif; the only person in danger is Kristin, and she is due a good spanking,” Ulf declared.
Kristin was mortally embarrassed by her brother’s words in front of the man she now knew was a friend to her brother. “Ulf, I am not a child any more!”
“Which is why I will not permit you to barge into our chamber in the middle of the night, little sister. You caused my wife embarrassment, and worried us both overmuch,” Ulf scolded.
“I am sorry, but he was chasing me and I sought your protection. I did not think you would be doing aught but sleeping,” she admitted, her blue eyes, so much like her brother’s, filling with tears even as her cheeks flooded with red at her embarrassment as she took meaning of her brother’s words.
Ulf was immediately over his temper. “Tis I who am sorry, little one. You are a maiden, and of course it would not occur to you. Do not cry now; I am not upset over this matter, but what were you thinking to ride here all by yourself?” Ulf was sure of himself now, and he could not permit the matter to pass unnoticed because of Kristin’s tears.
“I know tis not smart to ride alone, especially at night, but our sire would have prevented me from leaving our estates if he knew I was planning to go. I would not marry a man Father chooses, Ulf. I knew that of all my siblings, you are the one most likely to understand. You are not afraid to stand up to our sire and tell him nay! Please help me, brother!” she begged of him.
“I will need to think on this, Kristin. Father only wishes to see you safely settled into a marriage that will offer you protection.”
“He wishes to rid himself of my presence in his home!” she announced, anger in her voice.
“Is there more?” Ulf asked tiredly.
“Aye, but it is late. You are weary; I am weary as well. Can it not wait until morn to discuss?” she asked hopefully.
“Aye,” Siv agreed before Ulf could speak. “I will see you to your chamber,” she offered, prepared to rise.
“Nay, sister! If it is available, I will use the same chamber I use every time I visit?”
“Aye, it is clean, but a fire has not been set,” Siv fretted.
“I will use the coverings on the bed, Siv, and I will be warm enough.” She hurried to the door, only to turn around and say, “Again, I apologize for coming into your chamber unannounced. That was uncalled for and I promise I will not do that ever again unless it be a dire emergency.”
“We shall survive the intrusion, little sister,” Ulf said with a fond smile. There was no point in addressing the fact that she arrived in the middle of the night without escort until the morrow. Unless he heard something to change his mind, he would be taking Kristin to task with a thorough spanking. What she did was dangerous and foolhardy and would not be tolerated by their sire or by himself.
Within moments Kristin was in her room and sound asleep on the great bed. She was safe now, and despite Ulf’s gruff demeanor, he would not let their father marry her off to some stranger. She would choose for herself, just as Ulf and Siv did.
In the great chamber, Siv and Ulf were discussing his sister, in spite of Ulf’s desire to do something else. “You cannot expect Kristin to obey your father when you did not,” Siv softly stated.
“She is a female and must obey our sire. I was a man of means and not dependent upon Magnus for my livelihood.” Ulf felt the explanation was simple.
“I am a female, and I did run from my father’s manipulation.”
“And you ended up serving ale in the inn’s tavern with an owner who was cruel to you and sought to control you by denying you food.” Ulf had long since made the tavern owner see the error of his ways, unbeknownst to his lady wife. The man was treated to a diet that consisted of nothing but bread, cheese, and buttermilk every other day unless he cursed them, or whined. Then the landlord went without anything. He lost a considerable amount of weight at the hands of Ulf before Ulf felt he was remorseful for the way he had treated Siv and other women who worked for him over the years as a landlord. The man hung his head in shame as he admitted he did not realize that he was being so cruel to the serving wenches. Ulf promised he would run him through with his blade if he ever witnessed him treating another wench as he did Siv. “I would not see Kristin exposed to that sort of situation.”
“This is why we shall help her, husband.” Siv turned to him, and somehow the skin she used to cover herself slipped down to reveal her lovely breasts. Their son, Rolf, was now weaned and her breasts were as lovely as before their first child was born. Ulf’s eyes took in the sight and it did not matter that his lovely wife was using her charms to sway his opinion. He was more than willing to be swayed.
It was much later when the satisfied Ulf fell into a deep sleep. He would deal with Kristin on the morrow.
Leif lay on his bed, his arms folded behind his head. The little wench was Ulf’s sister, and that fact alone prevented him from taking her across his knee, baring her, and applying his hand to her cheeks until they were crimson in color. The pretty little blonde risked her life by leaving her father’s castle without men to protect her, and if Ulf did not lesson her, he would see to the matter himself. Leif tried to close his eyes and sleep, but all he could see was Kristin’s pretty face. “Why now?” he muttered.
Come morning, he was still wide awake. He dressed and went downstairs to find the thralls already hard at work. A nice fire was already set in the huge fireplace in the center of the great hall, but the meals were prepared in a kitchen, although there were times both fires were put to cooking large feasts for many people. Now that Ulf had a son, his family visited often, as did Lady Siv’s family. They all wanted to have a say in how Rolf was raised, but Leif was positive that Ulf would see the boy raised his way, and Leif did not blame him for that. He had heard stories of Magnus from Ulf and was sure Rolf’s sire would do best for him.
Leif could already hear Ulf’s voice booming outside the castle and he went to see what his friend was upset about so early in the morn. It did not take long for Leif to realize that Ulf was berating the man who had left his duty the evening before. The man stood there and offered no defense for his actions, but Ulf would not permit the man to remain silent. “I would have an answer, man. What was so important that you would risk the safety of my wife and son and all within the castle?” Ulf continued to glare steadily at the man while waiting for an answer, and Leif knew that neither would move until the man replied to the question, whether it be one minute, one hour, or one day from now. Ulf could be patient when the situation warranted.
“Jarl?” One of the thrall wenches spoke up.
Ulf glared at the girl. “This is men’s business, girl. What do you have to say that pertains to the matter?” he demanded, and his eyes warned her that she was meddling where she should not be meddling.
“Jarl, Olay does not wish to involve me because he is a good man. He was helping with my father.”
“This is true?” Ulf demanded of Olay. The man had been with him for a long time, and never was negligent in his duty before last night.
“Aye, but tis not the lass’ fault, Jarl. She could not go to fetch him home by herself. Her sire drinks too much ale.”
“Did you ask for Olay’s help with your father, knowing he was on guard duty?” Ulf demanded of the girl he’d heard his wife call Annie.
“Aye, sir. I am the one responsible, not Olay,” she answered.
“What if we were set upon during the time Olay was helping you? Did you not consider that?” Ulf demanded, his tone fearsome.
“Nay, sir. I should not have asked.” She was in tears now and Olay looked ready to attack Ulf.
“Nay, it was not your fault, Annie, but mine. I should have asked someone to hold my place until I returned. I will not leave the castle unguarded again, Jarl.”
“What is your relationship with this woman?” Ulf demanded, aware that his wife was now watching, and holding their son in her slender arms. Rolf was a fine boy and one day he would rule this castle and the lands adjoining. Ulf needed answers from the man he had fought beside. He would not allow a thrall to be mistreated.
“I do not have a relationship with Annie, Jarl. She is a lady and I would not dishonor her.”
“But you would like to offer for her?” Ulf was relentless. Now his sister was among those watching.
“Aye, sir, I would, but I am not yet wealthy enough to buy her and free her so that I can wed her.”
“Girl, do you have feelings for this man? Or is he only good enough to do your bidding when needed?”
“I love him, Jarl,” Annie replied truthfully. “Jarl, please! I did not think of aught but to see my father home safely. I was wrong and selfish, and I am very sorry. Please do not blame Olay. I appealed to him, knowing he would not deny me.”
“Do you agree with this wench, Olay?” Ulf asked.
“Nay!” Olay said, his blue eyes flashing as he looked at Ulf. “I would have thrashed her had she gone to fetch Erp without my aid. I am the one who shirked a duty, not Annie.” He looked toward the pretty woman and said, “You have said enough, Annie. Hush now.”
“Ulf, may I speak now?” Siv asked quietly, wanting to intervene.
“Nay. We will talk later, wife.” He leveled his eyes on his sister, who was trying to hold back tears. “Why do you weep, sister?” he asked.
“If not for me, Olay would not have been found out. I am sorry you are wroth with him and would ask you to be merciful, Ulf.”
Her brother did not answer, but turned once more to the man. “How long were you gone, Olay?”
“Less than an hour, Jarl. To the tavern, and to Erp’s hut, and back to my post.”
“Where is Erp now?” Ulf asked Annie.
“He is home, sleeping,” she answered, telling the truth.
“Does he do this often?” Ulf wanted to know, not letting the sympathy he felt for the girl show. He knew of Erp and that he often shirked his duties.
“Aye, he does, but mostly he drinks at home. He is rough with Annie then,” Olay spoke up. “She does not deserve his anger at those times.”
“Nay, she does not. My sire also drinks too much at times,” Ulf told Annie, and then said, “Olay, I give this thrall to you provided you free her and wed her and take care of her. I will also accept your word that you will not leave the gate unguarded ever again. If you forget this, you will be severely punished. Is this clear?”
“Aye, Jarl. Thank you.” Olay was smiling broadly.
“Before you thank me know that I expect you to take Erp in hand and tell him his drinking will not be tolerated any longer, and he will be expected to put in a full day’s work or else he will be flogged. He will not be happy.”
“I do not fear Erp’s temper, Jarl,” Olay replied. “I shall do my best with him.”
“Annie, you are quiet. Do you fear marriage to Olay?” Ulf asked, and was surprised when she raised her tear-filled eyes to look at him.
“I am so happy, sir. Thank you for your precious gift and your understanding. You are a good Jarl.” She ran to Ulf, and stood on tiptoe to hug him. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“You are welcome,” Ulf said, embarrassed by her show of gratitude. “Go on and have the papers signed now.”
Olay took his wife’s hand in his and hurried her away from the powerful Ulf. He did not want the man to change his mind. He was lucky to escape a flogging, and to think that little Annie could have been subjected to the same frightened him nearly to death. He would take her to task for that later, he vowed, but right now he wanted to take care of the papers Ulf mentioned, and find the proper clothing for the woman he loved. She would not wear the long tunics and short skirts that proclaimed her a slave any more. Ulf was different from other Jarls in that he did not require his thralls to chop off their hair, but he did insist on the traditional clothing, and Olay hated having his wife’s legs on display for all men to ogle.
Ulf waited until they were out of sight and then looked at the others gathered around him. “Is it not time to break our fast? I am hungry this morn. What of you, Leif?” he asked his friend.
“I am hungry, Ulf. Your cook makes me reluctant to think of leaving for home.”
“So, do not leave. We enjoy your company.” Ulf slapped the man on the back.
“My sire will be expecting me, but I am not in a hurry to do his bidding,” Leif agreed, chuckling.
“I understand how you feel. Magnus was in haste for me to marry as well. Tis how I found my lovely bride. She was running from a wedding she did not want, as was I. We married, thinking to spite our sires and wed the one we chose to marry, neither of us realizing the other was the person selected by our sires. It was a bitter dram to swallow, but we do love each other and we had our way at the same time. Be not in a hurry to leave, friend.”
“You are welcome here, Leif,” Siv added her voice to her husband’s. She was furious with him earlier when he bade her be quiet and not speak, but then he showed his softer side and let Annie marry the man she loved. Ulf was constantly surprising her, and now she hoped he would be as patient with his little sister. Kristin was still upset by Ulf’s reprimand, but Siv could not blame her husband for scolding. If not for Ulf’s protection in the tavern she would have been beaten and probably raped as well. Ulf would go mad if something of that sort happened to his little sister.
“I would be excused; I do not feel so well this morn.” Kristin was so sure her brother would welcome her with open arms, but he seemed determined to scold her as he would a bratty child, and she could not handle that at the moment. She needed understanding; she got enough scolding from their sire,
“You will sit and eat, Kristin. There is naught wrong with you but a guilty conscience, and that will not bother you in a while.” Ulf was positive she needed a good spanking, and he was going to see it done.
“Ulf, stop it! You are not my father, and if I knew you would act this way and refuse me sanctuary, I would have done as Siv did and make my own way in the world.”
“I spanked Siv for thinking like that,” Ulf told her, one eyebrow raised in warning. “Sit whilst you can and eat the food Cook has prepared. If I must deal with you before I eat, I will be most firm.”
Kristin sat, and to her dismay, Leif came around the table to sit beside her. She did not wish to share a trencher with him, but it was obvious that Siv was sharing with Ulf.
“Do not worry, I will not bite you, little one,” Leif told her, smiling. “The food looks appealing; fruit, eggs boiled hard, fish. Ulf’s cook knows how to tempt a man.”
“Twas Siv’s doing, you dolt! Cook only does what Siv suggests she do. Ask Ulf; he will tell you that since Siv arrived he eats better than before. He is spoiled by his wife.”
“Of course I spoil my husband, and when you find the right man, Kristin, it will be important to you to spoil him. Just wait and see.”
“I have not any time to wait, sister. Ulf will not help me and once Father discovers me gone, this is the first place he will seek me. I do not want to marry until I am ready. I thought you would understand this, brother?” She once again implored him to help her.
“Father only does for you what he has done for our sisters, Kristin. They are happy with their lot, are they not?” he asked.
“No,” Kristin replied, shocking her brother and Siv. “Hild despises Jon. He does not pay her any mind and goes off whilst she works all the time, trying to hold onto what little they have. He gambles and beats her when he loses! Hild sees her work go for naught.”
“Why has she kept silent and not told me?” Ulf demanded.
“And have you side with Father?” Kristin said bitterly. “I did not believe you to be so much like him, but you are!” Kristin jumped to her feet and ran from the hall, going up the steps and to her bedroom. The door slammed not once, but four times, as Kristin made her feelings known on the subject.
“Father has grown soft in his old age if he permits that sort of display within his hall!” Ulf muttered darkly.
“Your sister is very upset right now, husband, and I do understand her feelings. When Father chose you, he did not care about me or my feelings. He only cared to make an alliance with Magnus and prevent war. I was naught but a pawn, as were you. We both raged against the injustice, but fate stepped in and we found each other and wed before we realized we were marrying the one our fathers’ chose. I do not know what Magnus is thinking. He should know that Kristin would not be happy to have her choice taken away!”
“A father expects a daughter to obey, wife, and tis something you should have been taught. Erik did not do you a favor by letting you grow wild. I would not have found it necessary to lesson you so much that first year if he had disciplined you occasionally as you were growing up.”
“A daughter has the right to expect her father to protect her from those she would not marry, Ulf. Your father appears to care naught for Kristin’s feelings in the matter. I think you should help her.”
“I think she needs to be sent home, riding her mount with a sore bottom to teach her the error of her ways. She is out of line, as are you to suggest I defy my sire’s wishes in the matter.”
“I think you are wrong, husband. Leif, I am sorry you are here to witness Ulf being most stubborn. In that regard, my husband is most certainly his sire’s son!” Siv rose to her small height and then said, “Excuse me; I have work to do.”
“My friend, it is moments like this that I thank Odin I am not married,” Leif remarked, grinning at Ulf.
“Do not make me run you through, barbarian,” Ulf retorted, and then both men broke into laughter. “Siv will calm down, and if she does not do so by this night, I will calm her with my hand on her shapely butt.”
“Does it not bother you that your sister does not wish to marry the man your father has selected?”