Reimund Swiđhun has it made. With the king’s blessing, he will capture Lady Mildthryth, marry her, and finally have land to call his own.
Lady Mildthryth Rúna has been fighting off would-be ‘suitors’ for months. She will marry on her terms or not at all.
Usually in historical romance, the too-independent noble woman is forced into marriage and gradually comes to love her husband and accept her subordinate place.
Mildthryth has other plans.
Story Content Notes: Coerced consent, violence, patriarchal societies with deeply ingrained sexism (doubly so for the Norns), a woman with her own ideas, and some on-screen sex.
Lady Mildthryth Rúna was in the weaving room. Again. So was her mother, the lady dowager, and every woman who wasn’t sleeping or too fumble-fingered to work a loom.
They wove in shifts now, running through a month’s worth of wool in a week. In the surrounding villages, old maids and young girls were spinning their fingers bloody to supply the ladies of the burg.
Still, the piles of bandages in the still room shrunk.
It had been six months since the Conqueror had withdrawn his protection. Since he promised a boon to the lord who brought her to heel. The Nornish conqueror would not abide the blasphemy of a woman holding lands in her own right.
So far, the Nornish idea of courtship had left much to be desired. So far, she had been able to send her erstwhile suitors packing.
From the walls, a horn rang out, calling the warriors once more to battle.
Reimund Swiđhun watched with satisfaction as his men put the fields to torch. The serfs and freemen had all fled, unpursued. Reimund expected to be ruling that land by year’s end. He didn’t want to rule over a land gone barren because there was no one to work the fields.
He looked up at the castle high on the hill above. It wasn’t really a castle, just a rough attempt at making a proper fortress out of one of the old Anglish bughs. Even with his small force, he thought he could overwhelm it. Probably.
But why chance it?
Your fields burn, lady, he thought to himself, Soon you will have nothing to feed yourself or your people. Then we will see how stubborn you are.
The gate to the castle opened and warriors lightly armed in the Anglish fashion poured through. They moved faster than Reimund had planned for, but he still had enough time.
Reimund blew his horn twice, summoning his men back. They had done what they came to do. Now it was time to leave, while they could still lose themselves in the surrounding forests.
Mildthryth tried to stare into the darkening forest the invaders had hidden in. This wasn’t the first Nornish lordling to attack her, but so far he was the cunningest. The others had assumed a ‘mere female’ wouldn’t be able to stand against even a token show of force.
All crept home like whipped curs after learning that the daughter of an Anglish lord and a Dragma warmaid had forgot none of the lessons of her ancestors. Most had fled, but a few she had been able to capture and ransom.
If they could survive long enough, they would at least have no problem buying new supplies.
Footsteps on the stairs behind her announced the arrival of her Armsmaster, Wigmar. He still wore his armor but had taken off his helmet. Sweat soaked through the old bandage on his head.
“You shouldn’t have gone out yourself, Wigmar.”
He came to stand by her and scratched at the old wound, itchy with healing. “Too many injured and unable to ride, milady. I’m hale enough, as long as I don’t take another blow to the head.”
“You weren’t planning on taking the first one,” she ground out.
Wigmar ignored her comment and started his report, “As I warned you milady, they had too much of a head start, and we couldn’t catch them before the trees.”
“No sign of their camp?”
Wigmar shook his head. “They’ve crossed over that rocky strip to the south. Don’t know how they didn’t lose a dozen horses to broken legs, but it’s big enough to break their trail. Woodsmen are trying to work their way around the strip and find where they come across it. But it’s a big strip. And we can’t be sure they didn’t leave an ambush, so our people need to move slow. With dark falling, it will take a miracle from the Ancestors to find them.” He made the sign for the Ancestor’s ancient ships. “He’s a smart one milady.”
She snorted. “Let’s be honest Wigmar, it doesn’t take much smarts to figure out what any rabbit escaping the fox knows. He’s just the first of our… uninvited guests who thinks I have the brains to put my own shoes on.”
Mildthryth started pacing. “How likely are they to try this again?”
“If it works for them…” Wigmar shrugged. “Against your father, likely they’d move and hit somewhere else, but…”
“Aye.” She was silent for a moment. “Pull our people back, don’t wait for full dark. Let them think we’ve given up.”
He eyed her speculatively.
“Tomorrow, before first light, get as many of our warriors as you can ready to ambush them as they cross the stone river.”
The old Anglish warrior grinned. “Your mother’s daughter, my lady. I’ll start planning.”
Reimund dismounted to lead his horse over the rocks. His favorite mount was already lame – not on slick rocks but on a gopher hole within sight of camp. If he wasn’t careful with this horse, he’d have nothing left to ride. After a few minutes, his scouts signaled all was clear—there was no sign of the Anglish.
Which was exactly what he expected. But Reimund knew if they were to be ambushed, this would be the spot. He wasn’t happy about that, but the alternative to crossing what he thought of as ‘the hell patch’ was to risk being tracked and ambushed in camp.
The ambush you knew to expect was always best.
Reimund frowned in thought as he led his men out of the scrub and over the rocks. True, the castle was held by a mere woman, but if he continued coming from the same direction she would start setting ambushes. His sister Eveline certainly would have, and by tomorrow at the latest! Though his mother, it would have taken another week or more, and then she would have no idea what else to try.
He hoped Lady Mildthryth wasn’t as foolish as his mother. He’d wed her regardless, but he wanted a wife he could hold a conversation with from time to time.
If she was anything like Eveline, she would soon have her people out on patrol or guarding the remaining farms. He’d need to be prepared for that.
He was deep in plans and halfway across the rocky terrain when a flight of arrows hissed out of the surrounding scrub, followed by dozens of lightly armored warriors on foot.
Mildthryth strode along the watch-walk of Oakley Keep, squinting into the glare of the rising sun. She snorted at her foolishness. As well try to fly as to see through the very mountain.
It had been a risk, setting up an ambush with her warriors on the rocks. But a calculated one. The Norns were experts at siege and open field combat, but Mildthryth’s people had learned a faster, more brutal form of mountain warfare from the Dragma.
That harsh lessoning might, today, buy their survival for a time.
But Wigmar wasn’t the only injured warrior fighting today. Time was something they were running out of.
Hopefully this time she’d be able to put her plan into action.
With an effort, she forced her mind back to practicality. However the ambush fell out, there would be injured to care for. Best she be prepared for them.
Reimund dodged the whirling axe, then lunged forward. His spearpoint slid into a gap in the axeman’s armor and stuck there. Releasing the spear, he drew his sword.
Unhorsed, his heavily armored knights were at a disadvantage. They had better protection, yes, but had already lost their greatest weapon—the momentum of their mounts.
The first attack had taken out a full tenth of his men. Outnumbered, unable to retreat… he was down at least another tenth, probably more.
Shamed, but seeing no other answer save dying, he stepped back from the front line and pulled the battle horn from his belt. The solemn call for surrender rang across the battlefield.
The waiting is always the hardest part, right?