In the stillness of night only a couple of men were awake at the bow of the ship. In an open ship like this not even the commander had much privacy while sleeping. He was granted a small nook between some cargo boxes. This luxury of his made my job easy.
I watched the men nod off one at a time and slowly picked my way around them. As I crept, I wondered how men could live with their own stench. Even being at sea for months at a time my women smelled far better. Of course we bathed ourselves as often as we could. These men They were barbarians.
Well, not all of them, the lithsman who pushed to teach me how to use his sword on a few occasions was quite heroic and handsome. I fooled him as much as any of them with my disguise as an untrained boy. I joined the crew at the last port only two days ago. In that time, while I worked and "learned," I watched the crew and especially the commander. He held the key to the King's treasury as it was his job to store and recover whatever the King needed from there. Currently we were returning from such a venture.
I didn't care about what he had on this ship. Why should I, when the larger treasure was left unguarded, and I saw its location? All that was left was for me to do was get the key. Unfortunately, he kept it tied to his belt at all times. Luckily, I knew he was sleeping right now; he snores louder than a bull.
I bent down and ducked behind some barrels. He slept with no blanket, which helped me greatly. I took my small dagger from my boot and prepared to make the snatch.
"What are you doing?" Raegnold the lithsman growled. Thankfully, I did not dislodge my cap, which hid my long hair, as I backed away. What would he think if he saw it? He was not like my ex-fiance who was ice to Raegnold's fire.
I looked about frantically. There were no weapons except my little dagger and he had a big sword, but I didn't want to kill the guy if I didn't have to. I hid my dagger quickly. I sort of fancied him after all. He was strong and not that bad looking for a Saxon. He came in very close to me as I pretended to not be stealing anything.
"Came here to be alone?" he asked huskily.
"I've been hoping to get you alone." He breathed in deep like a lion smelling its prey.
"You have?" Despite my effort my voice still wavered.
"Oh yes, you've been quite a fast learner and I have more to show you." He drew his finger down my nose and I was ready to melt. Then faster than Thor can slam his hammer he pinned me against the crates and holding my arms tightly, he pressed his lips against mine.
I love men who know what they want and take it. I opened my lips slightly invitingly and he moaned with gratitude taking full advantage of the opening.
He pressed his hard chest against mine and let his hands roam. I became watery when he placed his hands between my thighs. I climbed up on him a little as he felt between my legs. I never let a man touch me like this before. I thought briefly that this could be the one I would have as my husband. The one who would be worthy of my virginity. I could talk to him, his touch sent shivers down my spine, and right now what he was doing to me, I couldn't even explain. New desires filled me as his hand searched rather roughly through the fabric of my trousers. I didn't understand his confused look until he pushed me off of him.
"A woman!?" He howled in disgust. His teeth were so close to me and his rancid breath made me gag. Perhaps this wasn't the man I wanted. Not that he wanted me. "You're not a boy?!"
I blinked in surprise. I thought he'd be upset because I was a spy. I supposed I pulled off this disguise too well. I loosened my grip on the dagger believing he wouldn't hurt a woman. "But but I thought you were-" I saw the gears turning slowly in his head until he came to his final solution. "I'll kill you!"
I didn't give him the chance. I gripped my dagger tight again and slammed it in his side. If he howled before, this was a roar. It alerted the entire crew!
I broke from his grip and ran for the waking commander. Raegnold grappled for me again the dagger in his side only slowed him slightly. I grabbed the key from the commander's belt and yanked hard! The commander, either in pain or surprise, yelped then tried to snatch me. Too late, for I already jumped overboard.
I fell face first into the ice cold water and felt as if I'd hit a rock. Dazed, I heard the yelling on the boat moving farther off. They had not seen where I landed and searched the wrong area. I didn't know how long I had before they doubled back.
It was cold and the black, silky night made it seem as if I was floating in the sky, not in the ocean. I shivered as the biting rawness began seeping to my bones. I swam but not very well, weighed down by these heavy clothes and boots. Why do men wear such bulky clothes?
Would I die out here in this empty sea? Giving my life back to the ocean? Who would have thought a princess would die this way?
I was about to pull off my boots when I heard a woman's voice, "Do you see her?"
"Princess, are you there?"
A torch lit up and I could now see my Skipsbåt a short way off. The small landing boat was fast and would reach me quickly. I sighed knowing I was to live another day.
This wasn't the most harrowing of adventures I'd had since becoming a pirate. Ha! Before becoming a pirate I had more exciting exploits! Such as escaping that Dane my father, Siward King of the Goths, wanted me to marry! He boasted that he tangled with three of my father's snakes to get to me. Well, to escape him I took on five of them, three of my father's guards, then stole men's clothes in the village, gathered my serving women and conned a boat out of a crafty warrior, finally, not long at sea, I found a crew of pirates whom I persuaded to make me their leader, leaving Sweden forever!
Escaping from some Saxon's boat was child's play. My women rowed silently towards me, careful to keep the torch half hidden from the cog I just left. If they noticed the light they could be on us in minutes. My long ship, the Deadly Serpent, was too far away to help us in time. So silent and steady was the key.
The women kept the small boat balanced while I climbed in, then we rowed slowly back to my ship. Tired and irritable I didn't rest, we had little time to make it to the cache before the Saxon's realized what happened. I ordered thirty of my long ships to hold back hiding among the islands in wait for the Saxon's to pass, come in behind them, thus we'd encircle the lot of them, have the treasure, and be on our way.
I shivered as I slipped back into the chilly Gulf of Finland water. At least this only came up to my knees. If only I had stayed and married Prince Alf I wouldn't have to tolerate such freezing conditions. I'd be in a comfortable home next to a warm fire with three children at my feet. Of course if I married him, I wouldn't be as rich as I was about to become. A king's ransom! And there it was before me! The cave entrance had been barred but the key easily took care of that. The chains holding down the chests were easily broken and one by one we hauled the trunks to my boats. I was beginning to wonder if we could fit it all on the ten ships I brought.
As I helped carry the first trunk out I wondered what Prince Alf would think of his Princess now? Would he want to marry me still, after becoming a thieving raider? Would he see past that? Or would he want to marry me the moment he saw this pile of gold?
It was strange to me that I thought of him so often and at such peculiar moments. Yes, my father declared that any man who could pass his test would marry me, however I didn't even know this man, how could marry him let alone I fall in love with him? He was scrawny yet handsome, but he had no fire in his heart, no passion.
I slept soundly until my door burst open. It was the first time anyone had come through that door besides my mother. My father placed 20 adders in front of it so that only those he wished could get through. One of which the intruder held limply in his hand.
"Get out!" I screamed as I lifted my furs before me hiding my night clothes. He didn't. He stood there somewhat dumbfounded in his blood soaked hide with a hot iron in his other hand, and watched me curiously. He was tall and slender with strangely cropped, golden hair. He was young, perhaps even younger than I, at my tender age of 17. He's handsome but I remembered my mother's words; "Are good looks enough for you to give up your chastity? Shouldn't you judge his virtue, not just his appearance?"
"Alvilda! Is everything all right?" I heard my father call from outside.
"No! There's a man here!" I cried not taking my eyes off him.
"There is?!" he roared. After a few seconds of hearing him clear the snakes he burst into the room pushing the man aside. In surprise the man stumbled but held his footing and looked in horror at my father.
My father looked from me to the man to the snake. "You?! You made it past the snakes?" The man nodded numbly.
I saw in his eyes only the determination that I saw in every other royal suitor; the wish to take me as his wife for the sake of my father's riches. My father put the snakes there to keep away such men. Yet something seemed off and there seemed to be more than one snake here.
"Haha!" Father slapped him hard on the back. "Then you are the one. You may marry my daughter. Alvilda, this is Prince Alfred son of-"
"No," I said simply.
"No?" Father growled.
"No?" Prince Alf fell back a step, and he seemed to fade into the black soot covered walls. I pitied him if all his hopes depended upon me.
"But he's King Sigar's son!"
"I don't care!" I stood wrapping the snow white fur around me and stomped away from the men towards the window.
"Alvilda ," the prince said softly. "I'm I'm not here because of my father."
Of course my heart isn't completely cold. I found him somewhat fetching at that moment. His sadness made him seem like an innocent child. I don't know, I kind of wanted to nurture him. Yet I held my ground in the refusal. I shook my head. "I'm sorry. I won't marry you." By that point I'd already made my decision to leave, since my father was being so unreasonable.
I think the prince was about to cry, but I had no time to make him feel better. My father started yelling at me. "Alvilda, you ungrateful child, after all I've done for you! You have no choice in this; you shall marry."
"I will not marry such a scrawny, weak minded Dane such as he!"
The prince quietly slipped out dragging the snake behind.
I helped carry two trunks on board the beached Deadly Serpent -- she was a fine ship with 30 rooms (rowing benches), eight men to a room, her large cloak of the wind, furled now, wore yellow and orange, her hull painted above the waterline to match, and her prow bore a beautifully carved, gilt dragon's head -- the last of the chests followed onto Groa's, my best woman and closest friend, ship; the Raven's Shadow. As I looked up from storing them, I saw two black dots on the horizon. I blew my horn signaling the Raven's Shadow and other ships to prepare for battle. If we remained here we'd be trapped in this rather narrow gulf.
People moved furiously some jumped out of the boats to help launch them as the rowers pulled her back, others secured items, and still more women passed out arms. Even as all this went on around me, it was as if I was the only one there. Slowly, as if the gods pressed down on it, I lowered the flag. My mouth fell four full inches as I began counting six then ten dots growing larger, soon there were so many of them, they filled the horizon.
I was about to call out for my crew to take to the shore as fighting so many vessels at sea was useless. The ships were more than dots now and that's when I noticed at least two of them had the large, square, yellow and orange sails of my fleet. I couldn't tell if they were chasing or being escorted. It didn't matter; they needed help.
"Row in swift haste! Forward!" I grabbed the rope others were having trouble with and pulled. The sail unfurled and the ship lurched. Soon we were closing. I had ordered my fleet to follow and trap the Saxon ships in the bay, but none of us counted on an armada, nor were those the Saxons.
"Danes," I cursed when I saw their red and white sails, and the word stuck in my throat. "Prepare to attack!" I hollered.
The horn was blown and the red shield, showing our hostility, raised. The ship came alive as everyone on board cheered and yelled. They began working themselves into a frenzy, banging on the shields that lined the hull, and waving their swords. A couple jumped and tossed their heads about, hair flailing in the wind, possessed by the mighty gods. It was quite an intimidating view for those about to be attacked. Whoever said women shouldn't fight, never saw my girls in action.
We maneuvered our boats straight for the center of the fray. Only two of my ships were there. Where was the third? Had she been lost already? I had no time to mourn as one of the Danes' ships came within range of our arrows.
I gave the signal and a slew of arrows curved through the air hitting their target squarely in the middle. A second wave of arrows flew out as the first group of archers reloaded. I watched as Danes, taken by surprise began falling, blood flowing from their wounds.
We came along side the vessel and before the Danes could hide behind their shields my women began hurling their spears. Three men fell before the Danes threw their own, missing all but one woman who was only grazed.
As we began to clear the other ship I leaped to the forecastle and called to the other commander. "The others must have towed your ship here for it can hardly float!"
"My ship sails with Thor's wind!" The graybeard's voice was weak on the wind.
"May you die of old age!" I cried and my girls howled the insult as well, drowning out whatever response he may have made.
We continued sailing out of reach of them to the next vessel taking down as many Danes as we could while we passed, trading insults and berserking to the point of putting fear in most of their men. I knew it would damage us too much to attempt a full assault on one of their ships. Thinning them out a little at a time was the best option. I hoped we wouldn't run out of spears and arrows first.
The battle raged on, and I watched as the aptly named Smoking Dragon, went up in flames. She had been my second best ship. I shed a tear as her commander was a dear friend. The Danes overwhelmed The Gliding Hawk, Hetha's ship. Hetha had been my serving maid for countless years. Those monsters crawled upon the ship like ants over a carcass.
I watched helplessly as what appeared to be their lead ship came level with my own. Its commander, a bit of a young fop, yelled with a slightly insulting laugh; "I will make you my bed-slave."
"You would easily be my mare!" I called back. He sneered at this and barked orders at his crew to throw the anchors onto our own. Almost as fast as the lines fell onto our ship my women chopped them off. This didn't stop their crew from trying over and over. We'd already fought off several ships, and I knew we could this one. Yet as the Raven's Shadow went down, another Dane ship came along side. We couldn't fight off two at one time.
I gripped my sword, Naðr, hard in both hands. I was not going to let them take me alive. I yelled at the top of my lungs, screaming for Odin to give me strength, the power of the battle ran through me, and I felt as if the Gods themselves lifted me up favoring me above all others. With my newfound energy I ran for the rail to ward off those who tried to jump aboard.
The few men I had onboard took large rocks we brought from shore and hurled them at the decks of the attacking ships. A couple crashed through the planks causing large holes in their decks, and I'm unsure if they made it any farther. Smaller stones were hurled at those trying to board as spears were saved for closer combat.
We held them off for some time and did more damage to their ship and men than they did to ours, but eventually their numbers overwhelmed us. Danes flooded our ship, and we began fighting with swords, teeth and nails. My girls produced fear in the hearts of the attackers, their screaming and beating on shields kept the men back far enough we could kill many with spears. No matter what we did, though, they kept coming. I killed three men easily as their leather armor was much weaker than our chain mail. Naðr sliced through another with finesse and I left the man bleeding letting my blade's venom do its work.
One man jumped with flair over the railings from his boat to mine, no doubt he was their leader; a noble dressed in fine velvet under his chain mail. I kept glancing towards him as I fought; he looked so familiar. Had I raided his town before? No, he held himself like royalty, and his skill far bested any I'd seen.
A sword before my face brought me back into the fight and I blocked it. Yet in-between swings I watched this man and my mind went in circles trying to recognize him. He advanced towards the bow, slaughtering all that withstood him. His hair had such a wonderful dazzling glow, that his locks seemed to shine silvery.
With a mighty roar I shoved a Dane into the dragon head he knocked his own head and dizzily fell overboard. Arrows flew by my head but I ignored them as I saw several Danes taking interest in my newly acquired chests. I couldn't allow that and threw a dagger into the throat of one. Two more took his place and even though my girls wanted to, they could not hold them back. Even amongst the chaos men began heaving my treasure over to their ship. I wished to chase them but after every fallen foe another took their place. Friends fell too, too quickly, I watched as half my crew, bloodied and battered, fell to the deck. I felt so helpless and yet so enraged. I hated the Danes for their audacity. They had no honor attacking in such numbers. A civilized race would have approached with a messenger and negotiated the fighting conditions.
I returned to my high position on the forecastle to gain a better vantage of the situation. I knew we were losing and had no hope of escaping this alive, but I wasn't about to give up. These Danes had no honor and I had to prove to them what a true warrior was like.
Their commander fought like a raging bull, two of my men and one woman were upon him and he sliced through them with ease. He stood, hands on hips, looking directly at me. He must have identified me as the leader of his opposition. He aimed for me and walked through the fray. I watched with curiosity as I saw something in his walk, the cocky attitude of a man who just slew three vipers to "rescue" me.
This was no longer the young boy who sought to marry a princess for her wealth. This was a strong man, who fought like Odin himself and moved with a sense of grace and fidelity. His shining eyes spoke of battles won and honor gained. He was more than a man in my eyes; he was a God.
I nearly dropped Naðr before him, to give the day, and my life to him. As I stepped forward with that in mind, another man, one I heard the Prince call Borgar, seeming to be his first mate and friend, blocked my path. His eyes burned with Loki's fire and I knew he would be a worthy opponent.
He didn't give me a chance to prepare before he started swinging; I barely had time to jump out of the way. His sword was heavy so his arm was slow, I managed to get a good swing in cutting the leather of his leg before his sword fell again, which I managed to block this time.
Like any good pirate I store more than one dagger on my person and as we were in close combat I used this opportunity to pull it out and fall towards him as his sword swung high over my head. To his credit he hardly winced when the dagger pierced his muscles in his side. He shoved me back swatted at the dagger as if it were a fly knocking it across the boards, blood flew with it but he didn't seem to notice. He pinned me against the prow and I punched the wound with the hilt of my sword as hard as I could. He growled now in pain and nearly sliced my head off if I hadn't ducked quickly.
I swung at him as fast as I could but his large sword shielded him well. Finally, the trickster feinted left and fooled me into exposing myself. He swung his sword mightily upwards clashing with my helmet. My helmet flew off nearly taking my head with it, and then my gold hair fell down about my shoulders. Borgar stopped mid-swing as he gazed upon me in wonder.
"You're a "
"Woman," I said as I kicked him in the stomach making him fall off the forecastle. I prepared myself for the next attacker, but no one came near.
"Hold!" yelled Prince Alf so all on the ship could hear. "Hold you fools!"
He pushed one of his own men away from the woman he was fighting. "These pirates should be fought with kisses, not with arms. Put your cruel swords away, and handle the enemy with gentler dealings."
I gestured to my crew to put down their weapons and remove their helms. As they did, their locks fell, and gasps from the Prince's army echoed throughout the ship. Prince Alf waded through the bloodshed to face me.
"Alvilda?" I did not meet his eye. "You are the dreaded pirate who has been ravaging our coasts?" I nodded silently though I knew those days were over. He lifted my delicate chin to face him. "You're stronger of heart than I ever took you for, and I doubt I was ever worthy of you. However, the woman I see before me makes my heart pound harder than drums of war. My offer still stands. Marry me and let all this be behind us."
His sudden proposal was not out of the ordinary but was I ready for the life of a wife? I weighed my options
I felt I could civilize this Dane, and make him understand how to truly treat my people. I could make a difference there. Yet, I wouldn't have the adventure and freedom my life as a pirate has dealt me. Of course, what else would I do with all this new treasure? Either way it was mine and would go with me. I did not doubt our children would be strong and healthy. He did have a large fleet.
He looked at me expectantly, those blue eyes sang to me, his expression soft and loving, yet I saw how he fought. This man could handle me, and I him; we'd be a good pair. While I hesitated, his face drooped and my heart ached for him. Old memories of my mother comforting and holding me, flitted through my mind. I fought the strange urge hug him, just to make him smile.
Finally I nodded, "Yes."
He took me in his arms and I could not believe how right it felt. Why had I fought it? His hard muscles held me so gently I couldn't help but feel safe with them wrapped around me. It was in that moment I knew I'd done the right thing. This was where I belonged. All these years of roaming I'd felt empty. No longer. He completed me.
"Why did you leave me, Alvilda?"
"We weren't ready. But now ," I brushed his short beard with my hand, "my ships, my treasure, my crews, my heart: it's all yours."
He called for his religious man to come aboard. I never understood these Christians -- no sacrifice to Freya, no negotiation of property -- but I wouldn't let his religion stop me from becoming his bride. I did what I could to hold to my values and offered him my sword as a wedding gift.
He accepted it with pride and his crew and mine cheered for the union. The wounded were tended to by his skilled healers and the bodies cleared to other ships; Alf assured me we would take them home and bury them properly in mounds with honor. Soon the priest boarded the ship.
"I have a confession before we start." He held his hand to the priest stopping him before he could begin.
"Yes?" I said somewhat wearily. I had no idea what he was going to say.
"Your father " He took a deep breath. "Your father wished for me to marry you. He negotiated terms with my father. He then had the snakes killed, handed them to me and led me through the rest to get to you."
My mouth dropped open then. I had known it at the time, I knew he wasn't brave enough to kill those snakes.
"But-" he said urgently. "I'm a changed man now. When I saw your beauty back then, I couldn't speak. I couldn't do anything," he chuckled shortly. "I thought you put a spell on me. When you fled " His face softened, and I saw what seemed to be heartbreak in his eyes. He looked back down at me with such love. "I swore I'd become a man that deserved you. I went directly home, asked father for a ship and I've been sailing the seas ever since, never once forgetting about you. Hoping against all odds that you would not marry and I could come back for you. I would and can fight off a thousand snakes for you now."
He kissed me then with passion and hunger. His priest cleared his throat but neither of us paid attention any longer; we were lost in the kiss.
Our marriage was indeed a profitable one, and one filled with love. I sat on the throne as Queen of Denmark sharing the crown equally with my husband. Our little daughter Gurith turned out to be headstrong, like her mother, and fought in many battles, but that is a different story.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please send me any comments you might have, good or bad. Copyrighted 2009 by Christine Schnell. Go ahead and share it with others just keep my name with it.