Here’s the next part of my new work in progress.
One of the warriors ran over and held the torch close to the door. The tall man glanced inside and chuckled quietly. ‘Outside,’ he called. ‘Quick about it.’
He stepped aside and Hild and the three children stole out of the hut, their eyes wide with terror.
‘Here’s a pretty little thing,’ said the man with the torch, stroking the hair of Brand’s daughter, Nerienda. She shrunk back against the wall and the man pushed his body against her. ‘I saw her first, Cenred,’ he said. ‘Finders keepers.’
The big man gave a grim smile. ‘Whatever’s here will be shared, fair and square, Dudda. Including the girl.’
‘No,’ cried Brand.
‘Both women,’ the big man, Cenred said, holding his sword at Brand’s throat, ‘including the girl.’
‘She’s fourteen years old,’ Hild cried, pushing forward. ‘She’s only a child.’
Cenred nodded. ‘That’s true. But you are not a child. You’re a comely woman. Very comely.’ He stepped forward and lifted her chin, examining her face closely. ‘I’ll make a bargain with you,’ he said. ‘Your daughter will have to take only four of my men. So long as you take the other eight.’
Brand cried out and leapt forward but Cenred side-stepped and threw him to the ground. Dudda pushed his spear-point against Brand’s neck.
‘Is it a bargain?’ Cenred asked Hild. ‘I won’t even ask your man to watch.’
‘What if I have them all?’ Hild asked. ‘Will you leave my daughter alone?’
Cenred considered this. ‘I would agree but I don’t think you’d survive all twelve. Eight and four is what I offer. Is it a bargain?’
There was a silence and then Hild nodded. ‘But let me talk to my daughter first. This is not how she expected to experience life.’
‘None of us expected what’s coming to us all too soon,’ said Cenred. ‘You might as well get used to it. Our enemies will not treat you so kindly.’
‘You call this kindness?’ Hild said.
‘I call it kindness to my men. Don’t resist and it will be easier for you. Tell you daughter to do the same. There is no hatred in my men. Only sore need.’
The rest of the men dismounted and strolled over. As soon as they saw Hild and Nerienda they began to laugh and cry, yammering like dog foxes in the night. Brand and his sons were manhandled to the far side of the hut and their wrists were bound behind their backs.
‘What will the men do to them?’ asked Osgar, the younger of the boys.
Brand could not answer, so thick was his rage.
‘Don’t worry, Osgar,’ Ulf said. ‘The men won’t harm them.’ He knew this was a lie. But it was a necessary one.
‘Don’t move,’ Brand ordered them. He bowed his head, thankful at least that Cenred had not forced them to watch.
Cenred’s men had formed a ring around the two women. Dudda went into the hut and dragged out some bedding, throwing it on the hard ground. Despite the cold of the night they wanted a show.
‘Strip,’ one of the men called and then the rest of the men took up the word, chanting in a monotonous but threatening manner. After a moment there came a cry of admiration.
‘Cenred first,’ cried one of the men. ‘He should have first taste.’
‘I can wait,’ Cenred answered.
‘I can’t,’ cried Dudda. ‘I’m having the fresh meat.’ The other men laughed.
‘Then I’ll go for the experienced one,’ yelled another. ‘I like my mares well trained.’
Brand cursed and tried to work his bonds free.
There was a mighty cheer and then a horrible silence fell upon the hill. The men leaned forward, fascinated, anticipating. After a few moments there came the sound of Hild crying out. Brand shook his head at the cry. Hild sounded like she did when they made love; he could not tell whether her cries were of fear or of passion. And then Nerienda’s voice rose above her mother’s, a cry of pain and terror. Brand groaned aloud and staggered to his feet. He managed two steps and then he was tripped by an outflung leg and fell head first to the ground.
‘No father,’ cried Ulf, flinging himself on top of him. ‘You can’t stop them and if you try they’ll kill you.’
Brand did not answer but began to weep, his body heaving as if he were dying for want of air.
Still the rapes continued, each one marked out by an exultant cheer from the watching men. But then, after what seemed an age, Cenred cried out, ‘Enough.’
‘There’s more than half of us waiting,’ cried an angry voice.
‘Then you’ll have to wait. They’ll be fresher tomorrow. Keep on now and the women will be ruined.’
The men grumbled but did not dare disobey. The circle broke up and the men returned to their horses for their scant possessions.
After a few minutes Hild approached them, her arm around Nerienda who was sobbing uncontrollably. Cenred followed after them with three men.
‘Get back in your hut,’ he said to the women. ‘You’ll perish of cold out here.’ He nodded and the men hauled Brand and his sons to their feet. ‘You go with them,’ he continued. ‘And if you know what’s good for you don’t stir out again until dawn. My men are raging and I can’t be sure to hold them if they are provoked.’
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