The chapters are drafts, and I don't know the title of the book yet, but it begins where the last book ends: in Queen Gunnhild's bed chamber.
In the previous book, The Bitch Queen, Sigve the Awful defeated a very fearsome adversary, but he had to pay a high price; in the new book, he has sworn allegiance to King Harald Greycloak of Norway, an old enemy, and the king's mother, Queen Gunnhild, abuses Sigve.
War is building in Denmark, and when King Greycloak is dragged into the conflict, Sigve seeks to take advantage of the situation and get out of his thralldom. He still wears his rune sword, and he gets help from Life, the king's subdued lover thrall.
|History and myth, love and action in John Snow's next book|
Sigve the Awful watched Life, the woman tending his cuts. She had rinsed the scars at his shoulders and turned to fetch a bowl of soothing ointment. The wound-washing had hurt, but Life’s fingers had lessened the pain, and the salve would relieve the ache even more. It was not the first time Life treated his cuts.
They sat on a bench in the small nursing house. A fire was burning in a pit on the floor, and a tiny beam of light swept down from the smoke vent. On a timber along the bench, two oil-lamps were set up to help Life in her treatment. In times of war, the sickroom could be packed with wounded warriors, but today they were all alone.
Half in secret, Sigve studied Life. Her hair was bundled up and pinned with a bone stick; it was shining black, and usually it hung down her back. Life was a healer, not very tall or slim; she was small and oozing of woman. Her hands were warm, and turning to Sigve, she used the tip of her fingers to stroke his shoulders, preparing to rub salve into the cuts. When she turned towards him, Sigve caught her eyes; they were almond-shaped, dark, and sad.
“You’ve grown stronger,” Life said. Steering clear of the wounds, her fingers rubbed his bulging muscles.
“Yes,” he answered.
For more than a year, Sigve had been sworn into the hird of King Harald Greycloak. He had grown muscles rowing up and down the coast, collecting taxes and chasing vikings. When not rowing, he had been training with the rest of the king’s guard. They practiced sword and spear, shield-wall, and boarding of ships. Thor Blackhead, their captain-of-arms, was a relentless leader. The first moons Sigve had been so battered at night he had had trouble falling asleep.
The days of the hird had been hard, but Sigve had endured, moons had passed, and he got used to the life of fulltime warriors; his hands callused and his muscles hardened, and during the winter he had beaten many comrades in arm-wrestling and glima, their favourite sports. Sigve had a natural talent for fighting; he excelled in sword-play, but he still learned new feints and strokes, especially in real battle.
Beside the bench in the sickroom, Life had placed a hewn table, and on the table, lay knives, pouches of herbs, and a pile of clean rugs. In between bowls and cups, two magic sticks lay at the ready, and over the fire pit hung a big cauldron. Using a wooden ladle, Life had filled an empty bowl with hot water and placed it on the table.
Thrice on board the king’s ships, Sigve had fought raiding vikings, and every time the reavers had been killed to the last man. The king’s orders were clear, and Sigve had learned to kill swiftly.
On a voyage north to Lade, the king himself had spotted a heavy-loaded sea-farer, a knorr, against the horizon. The king had approached the knorr with three longships, and the men on board the trader had yielded without a fight when they realized they had met King Harald’s hird. The Irish traders and seamen had asked for quarters, for grid, but King Greycloak had been furious when he discovered their goods were from Bjarmiland. The knorr was loaded with barrels of oil, ropes of walrus hide, tusk, and big bundles of pelts from ice-fox and white bear, every item a fortune in itself.
The Bjarmi-trade belonged to the Norwegian king, to Harald, and the king grew wilder the more he saw of the costly wares. The knorr’s crew – twenty men in all – were chased ashore on a small island, stripped naked to the skin, beaten, and whipped. Full of blood they were forced on their knees and raped by every one of Harald’s hird. Debased and disgraced and full of blood and sperm, the traders were tied and lined up, and the king’s men had ripped off their fingers, members, and balls; slowly the captives had all died in a fit of violence. Sigve had never seen such cruelty.
Only one man was spared.
“We’ll patch him up and send him to Dublin,” the king had said.
During the slaughter, the screaming and the stench of shit had made Sigve sick, but he believed he could be used to the ways of the hird. What he could never get used to was the treatment he received from King Harald’s mother, Queen Gunnhild.
In the sickroom, Life moved one of the lamps to better see Sigve’s wounds on his shoulders; she fetched a small bowl from the table.
“The queen has long nails,” she said, rubbing salve into a scar.
Sigve nodded. The queen’s nails had dug deep into his muscles.
“What do you do to her?”
“You must do something…”
“I fuck her, that’s all.”
Life had asked the same question many times, but Sigve was reluctant to talk about his meetings with the king’s mother, who everyone called queen. Once a month he was invited to Gunnhild’s hall half a day’s rowing south of the king’s farm. It had been part of the deal when Sigve swore fealty to King Harald Greycloak. When he had come to offer his loyalty, he had first stopped at Queen Gunnhild’s farm on his way to the king at Avaldsnes.
He had known the queen had a bad reputation. She was called The Bitch Queen. She had been married to King Eirik Bloodaxe, father of Harald. The queen was a cunning woman, a practitioner of seid, and, according to rumours, after Eirik’s death, she had developed an insatiable appetite for men. Many claimed Queen Gunnhild likened Hel, the goddess of death, whose face had two halves, one fresh and inviting, the other rotten and decaying.
His friends had warned him against her, but the queen exerted great power over her son; some said the country was ruled by the king’s mother’s cunt. For Sigve, satisfying the queen had been vital for his intention to win the king’s trust.
So, he had taken his chances, and the queen had received him in her hall. Sitting in her seat of honour, the queen had been dark and beautiful and rather small, looking much younger than Sigve had expected. Smiling, she had invited him to her chamber.
She had preferred to make love in the dark with only a small candle burning on a beam, but Sigve had known what to do. When he had played with Yljali, his first lover, she had taught him to hold back – and how to wait, how to push, and how to force. He had learned where to use his tongue – and the queen had loved it.
When he left Utstein, Queen Gunnhild said she wanted more, and Sigve hadn’t refused when King Harald asked him to visit his mother from time to time.
In the nursing room, Life treated his shoulder-wounds. Her fingers gently opened a slit and applied ointment along the edges. The cuts were still fresh, Sigve had just arrived form a meeting with Gunnhild.
“The cuts are too deep to be rinsed properly, hopefully the herbs will help,” she said. Her touch to his sore shoulder was so light it set Sigve musing the difference between Life and Queen Gunnhild.
In the beginning the queen had shown him her good side, and Sigve had enjoyed their meetings. In the dark, among the furs in her bed, he had taken her hard and long, and the queen had screamed and jerked. He had taken her again, and next morning they continued throughout the day. It was only on his third visit that she started to scratch his back.
The visit had started as usual. Sigve had greeted the queen and sat down by a guest table not far from the women’s table, where the queen reigned.
A southern girl served him bjor and a cake with green stripes of hemp in it. Gunnhild’s hall was a woman’s room with carved posts and colourful tapestries depicting Freya, the goddess of love. The bjor was brewed with mind-bending herbs, and when Sigve drank, he got stone and dizzy. The carvings on the posts turned into mating snakes – so near him he could touch their slithering skin. All around, wall hangings came very much alive. The tapestries showed pictures of Freya’s love life; her meetings with all kinds of males: with men, gods, dogs, and bulls – and with Frey, her brother.
In her chamber, he had entered the queen, and his mind had crept into his bursting manhood. He had felt the inside of Queen Gunnhild. For a long time, he was both his own cock and Queen Gunnhild’s cunt – or rather Freya’s cunt when she was taken by her brother. Then it suddenly changed; he was Frey taking Freya – and then again himself fucking the extremely lascivious queen.
Next morning, Gunnhild had more bjor brought into the chamber, and during the day, their love-making turned wilder. The queen wanted Sigve to take her harder, and when he did, she clung to him. With her nails, she scratched his back in some weird kind of satisfaction.
On his next visits, she got worse. On the second day – it was always on the second day – the queen had demanded he took her more directly, more brutally, and the harder he took her, the harder she held on to his body. With strong legs, she locked him in a tight embrace and dug her nails into his shoulders.
After several bloody visits, Sigve had spoken to the king and asked him to be released from this particular duty, but King Harald had recoiled and said that his mother should have her will in the matter.
“But I’ll send you Queen Life. She will tend to your scratches.”
Life was King Harald’s woman and pet. She had been captured on a trading voyage among walrus hunters in the far north, and the king had demanded people called her Queen Life.
From birth, Life had had warm hands. In her tribe, she had been trained as a healer. When she arrived at the king’s farm, Gunnhild had continued Life’s training. Whenever Queen Gunnhild visited her son at Avaldsnes, she taught her the Norse language, the names of local herbs, poems of healing, and even galdr, a powerful kind of seid.
When Life had started to nurse him in the healing house, Sigve realized why Gunnhild had shown such interest in Life’s education.
On the bench in the sickroom, Life finished rubbing the cuts in Sigve’s shoulder. On the beam, one of the wicks flickered out, and Life fetched more lamp oil. She also got a new bowl of hot water from the fire pit.
Sigve’s back was covered in dried blood, and the queen’s nails had left deep gouges at both side of his spine. Life counted eight long claw marks. Dipping one cloth in hot water and another in a bowl of decoction, she prepared to wash his skin.
“She didn’t bite you this time,” Life said.
Pure luck, Sigve thought. We never got to that.
This time, on the second day of their lovemaking – with Sigve’ using his tongue – a man had knocked on the door.
“Keep away!” the queen had shouted, but the door had been opened slightly, and the captain-of-arms had spoken through the crack.
“The Danes have arrived,” he said.
“The Danes!” The queen pushed Sigve’s head away and sat up in the bed.
“Are they here?”
“No, they sailed to the king at Avaldsnes.”
“Directly to my son!”
Queen Gunnhild was furious; she told the captain-of-arms to make ready a fast-rowed faering.
“Send three men to Avaldsnes,” she said. “I want to know every word said in the king’s hall.”
“And you,” she had pointed at Sigve; “will follow the faering.”
Sigve had dressed, pulling on his tunic and trousers and donning his cloak. He hadn’t had time to wash, so his back was bloody, and his face was reeking of cunt when he sat down in the rowboat. The four men were lucky; their rowing was helped by a southern wind. A square-sail made their trip to Karmey both fast and easy. But on his thwart, Sigve’s wounds had started to ache.
The rowers had landed at Avaldsnes, and Sigve was led aside by the king. He had seen how Sigve was walking; stiff and with his legs wide apart. The king told Sigve to go directly to the nursing house.
“I will send Queen Life to patch you up, and you have better fresh up quickly” the king had said.
“The Danes have come, and I may soon have use for you.”
The nursing house lay at the outskirts of the king’s farm, beyond the hird’s quarters. It was smaller than the barracks, and the barracks and the other buildings were dwarfed by the hall. The king’s hall rose huge on a ridge, overlooking the Karm strait.
Inside the sickroom, Life finished tending to the gouges down Sigve’s back. She bid him undress and lie on the bench. The wide bench was turned into a bunk and made with layers of rugs and spread with a clean sheet of linen. Life fed the fire with logs and looked over the remedies she had lain out on a small table. Among her herbs and bowls were sticks with strangely formed runes.
Taking off his trousers, Sigve lay down on the bunk, careful not to hurt his back. He had no nail-marks on his breast, but his balls were sore and swollen.
Life fetched a cup of soothing liniment. She said it was nothing she could do with his aching pouch, except easing the pain. She rubbed in oil, when suddenly she spotted marks on the skin below his balls. The area towards his arse was swollen, and four deep claw-cuts had been dug into the root of his member.
“Evil bitch!” Life exclaimed – and looked around hastily.
Most of the room was dim, but the walls had cracks and holes in it. The king had eyes and ears everywhere, even around the nursing house – or especially around the nursing house. Life dropped her voice to a whisper.
“What has she done?” she asked.
“She denied me to come.”
His ability to hold back was Sigve’s strength in bed; he could take his women over and over. When King Harald had said he had to continue his visits to Gunnhild, Sigve had turned to the queen herself. It was on their second day of lovemaking. They were loitering among the furs after a morning of pleasure – Sigve touching the queen with his fingers – when he had suggested that he wanted to come – to finish. It was before noon, before she had started tearing up his back.
Gunnhild didn’t like the idea. On the contrary. She started singing and chanting and making magic words against him; soon turning to powerful galdr. She aimed her seid at his erection, which she alternately cursed and worshipped. In between her chanting, she licked his member and forcefully kneaded his balls; her treatment being both painful and highly pleasurable. His manhood grew extremely hard, and the seid made his coming impossible.
When he entered the queen again, she was wilder than ever, screaming and jerking and clinging to his body. For Sigve it was mostly pain.
On the following visits, Gunnhild’s magic got worse. Yljali, his first lover, had also known magic, and too much so. Sigve’s adventure with Yljali had led to death and disaster, but her seid in itself had never been evil. The queen’s magic, however, grew more sinister at every visit, and she forced him to drink more of the bjor.
The strong beer no longer lured him in among lovemakers in the cosy hall of Freya; rather he stumbled into the cold cave of Hel, the goddess of death. In her stone bed, Hel copulated with the dead, and when she caught sight of Sigve, she coaxed him into her cold embrace and forced herself upon him. All around them, snakes were hissing their forked tongues against them, before they shot out and bit Sigve’s shoulder.
When the pain stuck him, he realized it was Gunnhild who had bitten. To get a respite from her grasp, he had managed to withdraw and use his tongue instead, but his sucking only made her pleasure stronger. When he took her anew, the queen was more violent than ever.
On his last visit, their play degenerated further. They ate green cakes, drank bjor, and the queen’s seid sank into ominous galdr-tunes. She sang her spells on Sigve; he was bursting hard, and down his crotch, her tongue was teasing, and her hand squeezing, when suddenly she dug her nails into the root of his manhood.
His fucking became insufferable; he couldn’t have come however hard he had tried. To get a pause, he withdrew from the queen and placed his head between her legs, and luckily, before he entered her anew – and she could start biting him – her captain-of-arms had knocked on the door.
Rising from the edge of Sigve’s bed in the sickroom, Life fetched her magic sticks. She spoke her own language in a singing way and clapped the sticks together, making a clicking sound. First she clicked the sticks over Sigve’s breast, the home of mind and thinking, then she sang and clicked over his abdomen, the seat of his feelings.
Suddenly she stopped, and without a word, she washed and treated the wounds in his crotch with the rest of her ointment. When she had finished, she looked at Sigve.
“Did you ever come?” she asked.
“Not at all?”
With a gentle touch Life examined his bursting balls once more. She spread liniment on his sore skin beneath the balls towards his arse.
“Did she attack your behind?” she asked.
“No,” Sigve said, but Life rubbed oil around his arsehole nevertheless.
“You had better come,” she said. “It will ease the pressure in your balls and help your healing.”
“Can’t you help yourself?”
Cautiously Sigve took hold of his dick and began. The womanly presence of Life made it easy to get hard, but it didn’t lessen the pain. Taking a deep breath, he tried some more, kneading the head of his member. He got harder, but the harder he got, the more throbbing were his balls and manhood.
“I can’t,” he said.
“Try harder, and I’ll help you,” Life said.
For a moment Sigve forgot the pain. Norse women wore nothing under their dress, and he felt a hint of expectation in his loins.
“Will you lower yourself upon me?”
“No,” Life said. “You know I can’t. The king will kill you.”
Sigve nodded. King Harald had made it perfectly clear that anyone who abused Life would be dead, and the sickroom was no safe place. Lying on the bunk, Sigve did try harder, but he struggled to forget his aching body and focus on the work at hand.
Without touching Sigve, Life led a hand over his member, back and forth. She cupped her other hand protectively around his balls. Sigve could feel warmth radiate from Life’s hands, and his pain was blended with pleasure.
“Spread your legs,” Life whispered, and without actually touching him, she used her fingers to stimulate his member.
Sigve wanked wildly. He imagined Life without her clothes. He saw her bursting breasts and nipples, he felt the burrow between her thighs. He also felt a finger against his arse, against the opening. With a determined movement, Life thrust a finger inside him, pressed it up and forward and hit a sensitive spot that made his body jerk in a bang of pleasure.
A load of sperm splashed into the bedhead behind him – and then another. Semen hit his face and his throat. The jerking continued, and new spurts hit his breast and stomach. Only slowly the squirts diminished, and his hardness abated, but sperm still spouted out and filled his naval, running down the sides of his belly. Gradually Sigve got his mind back.
Life washed her hands, took a clean rug and wiped his face. Dipping the cloth in hot water, she rubbed his skin. Relieved and dizzy, Sigve finally relaxed, but lying on his back, the soreness in the scratches came creeping.
“Drink this,” Life said. She held forth a cup of herbal extract.
“What is it?”
“It will make you sleep.”