In the previous episode, Karyna took her horse, Stig, to the stalls after meeting her future sister-in-law. After tying him up, readers voted for her to stay in the stables to care for him.
“Tell me about yourself, Karyna,” Freydis said cheerfully, watching as the other woman tended her horse. “I have heard many stories, but some of them I simply cannot imagine are true.”
“My parents were killed when I was a child, my uncle Oleg raised me, teaching me to fight and sail,” she said bluntly, barely interested in her own story. But she was alone on Birkholm, and it would not do to antagonize her future sister. “When I was sixteen, I joined my uncle’s warriors on raid, killing the people that had slaughtered my family. I beheaded the man who raped my mother and threw her body into the sea. It was a merciful death. He deserved far worse.”
“How horrible!” Freydis said, fascinated. “And your eye?”
“A reminder from the clan chief of what I did to his people.” A long gash ran along the bridge of Karyna’s nose, down across her left cheek. The milky white eye above it was a badge of pride. Her first and greatest scar, a memory of satisfying her need to stain the ground red with blood and revenge.
“Why do you not wear an eye patch? Even Odin wore one after sacrificing his eye for wisdom.”
“My eye is not gone. I will not forget what I did, and I do not want those around me to forget either. I am the Bloody Rose. I am not afraid to fight.”
“I would be,” Freydis said with a shudder. “But my father is the greatest chief on these seas, so I am not worried. No one would dare raid our village.”
Karyna was silent. She knew the truth in Freydis’ words. Oleg had not pledged his niece’s hand to Garik on a whim. His own clan was struggling, and he had no successors of his own. A union between Garik and Karyna was the only way to prevent Imrich from descending on his people on the island of Draget. A political union and the combining of their bloodlines was the only way to ensure the island’s survival. And so Karyna bore her fate with grace, knowing that it would save her village from Imrich’s hordes.
“Are you finished? I can take you to the Great Hall for the feast. Garik is there.”
“Actually,” Karyna said, turning to face Freydis. “I think I shall stay here a while longer. Stig needs to be cleaned to get off the salt and sweat from our journey.”
“Would you like me to stay with you?”
“That is not necessary,” Karyna said quickly, wanting solitude more than anything at the moment. “I shall find my own way up to the Hall when I am done. There is no need to put off a warm meal to wait for me.”
“If you are sure,” Freydis said hesitantly, turning to leave as Karyna nodded stiffly. “Be quick. A storm is approaching.” Karyna did not respond.
Stig stood patiently as his master washed and brushed him thoroughly. Karyna relished the work, as it took her mind off her current predicament. But as she finished brushing the gelding’s auburn coat, she let out a mighty sigh, looking up and meeting the horse’s eye.
“It is just you and me now, Stig,” she said softly, scratching his nose affectionately. Just then, a bolt of lightning flashed outside, illuminating the rain that had started falling as she worked. It shimmered in the light, the deluge pouring down on the island quickly turning the dirt in the streets to mud. A rumble of thunder soon followed the lightning, making the gelding snort and shift nervously.
“Shh, it is alright,” Karyna said soothingly, stroking the horse’s neck. “There is no reason to fear. Thor will not hurt you this night. Though perhaps he will take mercy on me and strike me down as I walk the paths to the Hall.” Karyna laughed bitterly at her own words. Why would Thor care about her, a simple woman faced with the same plight as all women at the mercy of men? No, she was alone; alone to marry Garik the Wolf Slayer or alone to find her way out of the arrangement. But she would not take her own life, as tempting as it seemed. She was a warrior, and only death in battle would be acceptable.
“Perhaps Hall is not the right word,” Karyna mused as she thought of what awaited her across the village. “Perhaps ‘hell’ is more appropriate. Yet I suppose I should not complain. I am hardly the first woman to be forced to marry by her kin. But it still feels like I am going to hell. What do you think Stig?”
“You do not even know what hell you have entered.”
Karyna whipped around, drawing a knife from a sheath at her hip. But there was no one there. Yet she had clearly heard the voice behind her. Lightning flashed again, illuminating the dark corners nearby. There was only empty stalls and spare tack around her. But outside in the rain, she saw a dark shadow moving, vanishing quickly as the darkness fell once more, the thunder echoing loudly overhead.
Spurred on by her curiosity, Karyna exited Stig’s stall. Vote below on what will happen next or if reading in email click Take our Poll.
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