by Kate Hill
From Ellora's Cave
Erik Ice Tooth is used to getting what he wants. Undefeated in battle, no man is his match and no woman resists him, until he meets Bera, daughter of his King.
Disgusted by the hulking brute who asks for her hand in marriage, Bera adamantly refuses him, but Erik is determined to have his way. He abducts Bera, vowing that theirs is a match made by the gods–and he has many lusty tricks in store to prove it.
Erik Ice Tooth was accustomed to getting what he wanted. Few men could match him in strength and prowess in battle. Those who valued their lives avoided crossing him for any reason. Though not a cruel master, his punishments for offenses were swift and harsh. He and his brothers, Sigfred and Grim, were favorites of the King and provided him with a wealth of goods from their raiding and trading.
Erik hadn't visited the King for almost two years and decided after his most recent voyage he would personally deliver his goods. He had agreed to take along his young cousin, Thorkel. Though the boy was taller than most men and strong in battle, his clumsiness caused difficulties. It shouldn't have come as a surprise when Thorkel tripped on his way to the King's house and knocked Erik into a pile of manure.
It took all Erik's control not to take a sword to Thorkel then and there.
"Calm yourself," Sigfred said. "I'm sure it's not the first time the King has smelled manure and it won't be the last."
Grumbling, Erik glared at Thorkel and scraped off as much of the stinking mess as he could. Erik worried less about offending the King, who wasn't known for his cleanliness, than about spending half the night in filthy clothes.
"Come on," said Grim. "But keep your distance until you can find a wench to wash your trousers."
Inside the longhouse, Erik approached the King who sat on his place of honor–
a carved bench in the center of the room. Erik's annoyance was soon forgotten, replaced by the heady lure of desire. Standing near the bearded, leather-skinned ruler was a stunning black-haired beauty. Usually he preferred robust blonds, but the fire in this woman's dark eyes hinted at a fierce spirit that Erik found most intriguing.
"Erik, it's been a long time. Good to see you," the King said, a rare glint of cheerfulness in his slate-colored eyes. "You have brought me tribute?"
"Furs and other valuables," Erik replied, tearing his gaze from the woman. "All carried in a fine new ship I had built as a gift for you."
The King looked pleased, a faint smile tugging at his solemn mouth. If he noticed the smell lingering from the manure, he gave no indication, nor did the woman beside him. Perhaps the stench wasn't as bad as Erik thought, especially within the smoky confines of the longhouse. Still he would ask one of the serving wenches to wash his clothes and dry them by the fire so they would be clean for the trip home. Later though, when he could lie naked beneath furs to sleep.
"You remember my brothers," Erik said, indicating Sigfred who stood to his left and Grim to his right. Though Erik was exceptionally tall, both his brothers were also above average height. Sigfred was as dark as Erik and built like a bear in early winter while Grim was rangy and lean with flaming red hair and a fiery beard.
"Yes. You and your men have traveled long. Sit. Eat and drink. Choose women to share your ale."
Sigfred made a motion to introduce himself to the black-haired lady, but Erik shoved him aside.
"If the King wanted to introduce his new bride, he would have done so."
The King chuckled, a grating sound, and said, "I didn't think you were given to flattery, Erik. This isn't my wife, but my youngest daughter, Bera."
Bera? Though Erik had never met the girl, he had heard rumors about her and they didn't match this beauty. He'd heard she was plain and pitifully shy. This woman was far from plain and anyone who met his gaze, unfaltering, could not be shy. Even if she was as ugly as the rumors claimed, a woman with this kind of spirit could excite a man as much as a rousing battle. At the moment all Erik could think about was tangling with her lush body beneath a blanket.
Unless she was already spoken for, he didn't doubt he would have her before the night was through. He nearly smiled at the thought of her keeping him warm while his freshly washed clothes dried by the fire. The King liked Erik and wouldn't stand in his way if he wanted the girl.
"Will you drink with me, Bera?" Erik asked without preamble, then glanced at the King. "If your father approves?"
"Of course." The King waved his hand. "Go. Drink. Talk. Enjoy the evening."
Bera looked sharply at her father. "But I have work to do after supper."
"Let the other women do it," ordered the King, tugging her onto the bench near his. "These men are our guests and in need of company. Tonight they are allowed the pleasure of female companionship. Erik, you and your brothers join us at my table."
Erik nodded, his full attention once again focused on Bera. When he sat beside her on the bench, she recoiled, then stood and said, "I'll get you something to drink and eat."
Erik's gaze followed her for a moment. She wasn't especially tall but had full breasts, a narrow waist and hips that were made for a man to grasp while rutting long and hard.
Erik moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue, then was distracted when the King called to him.
The King's other daughter, Asgerd, approached with food and ale for Grim. She was even older than Bera and still unmarried, though everyone knew that was because the King favored her. She was the image of her late mother–a tall, beautiful blond with curves men dreamed of. She had numerous offers, but all had been refused.
By the way she hovered around Grim, Erik believed at least one offer wouldn't be refused. Grim had no interest in marriage, however.
The men talked of raids, building ships and forthcoming voyages. Some invited women to share their food. Several times Erik motioned for Bera to sit beside him, but she stood nearby, serving ale and stew when his bowl and mug ran low, but she neither ate nor drank. This was the first time in what seemed like ages Erik had to relax. The past few years had been an endless journey of battles, raiding and trading.
He allowed the woman to continue refilling his mug and soon he became so relaxed from the ale that he forgot about the stench of his clothes or even impressing the King with stories of his latest adventures.
Bera hovered behind the table until Erik finally turned to her and said, "Woman, will you sit and relax?"
The King growled at his daughter and she dropped onto the bench, her spine stiff and eyes ablaze. He grunted and explained, "She is a strong worker and would make a good wife."
"I mean no insult, but she is a little beyond the marrying age," Erik said.
Bera shot him a look of murder and the King shook his head. "Yes. But she will soon be wed."
Erik felt a pang of regret. "She is betrothed?"
"Not yet, but we have had offers and will decide soon," the King replied.
"I see," Erik said softly, a mad thought turning over in his mind. Bera wasn't the only one past the traditional marrying age. Erik wasn't getting any younger himself. Though still powerful in battle and with many productive years ahead of him, he needed to start thinking seriously of taking a wife.
In truth he hadn't considered settling down until this moment. Something about Bera tugged at his heart as well as his loins. This was the kind of woman he could imagine sharing his duties by day and his bed by night.
He smiled slightly, took a long sip of ale and looked at her. Her dark, gleaming eyes fixed straight ahead and she appeared frozen. Perhaps she was intimidated by his prowess. He often had that effect on women.
After Erik had eaten his fill, he took a mug of ale and rose from the table to find a spot by the fire where he and Bera could get to know each other better.
He grasped her hand and she tried to tug away, but he held her fast. Apparently he'd been wrong about her shyness. Though he found it hard to believe a woman of her years hadn't been with a man before, it was nevertheless a possibility.
"Come." He tugged her toward a fairly secluded corner. Except for the master's bed closet, it was impossible to find an adequately private place for coupling. Usually Erik didn't mind, as long as the joining could be performed quickly and with some discretion. This woman was different, though. He needed to handle her more gently than most. For some strange reason, he wanted to please her.
"No, please," she said, digging her heels into the wooden floor and glancing toward the King. "Father!"
"What's wrong with you, girl?" the King demanded. "At least go and talk to the man."
"I said go!" the King roared, flinging an empty bowl in her direction. It didn't strike her, but soared past her shoulder.
Bera jerked a bit, but when she turned to meet Erik's gaze he saw defiance and disgust in her eyes. This puzzled him. Still he knew some women had an aversion to coupling. It seemed Bera was such a woman, but like an untamed horse, with the right handling she would come around. Once gentled, she would no doubt give an unforgettable ride.
Gazing at Bera with her blazing eyes, dark hair and womanly curves, he smiled. She would be worth the wait and effort.
He grasped her upper arm and tugged her across the room, picking up a blanket from one of the sleeping benches.
"Here." He wrapped the blanket around her shoulders then sat on the floor. He offered her a drink, but she turned her face away from the mug, her lip curled in disgust.
"Something wrong with the ale?" he demanded.
"I would rather drink directly from a hog's mouth than put my lips to a cup from which you've sipped."
By her choice of words as well as her tone Bera made certain there would be no mistaking her revulsion. Never in her life had she seen such a filthy, stinking brute as Erik Ice Tooth.
Yes she'd known dirty people before. Not everyone bathed regularly, combed their hair daily or favored the use of ear scoops, but Erik was so filthy she was surprised he wasn't crawling with bugs or didn't have birds nesting in his hair. The man actually reeked of manure!
She knew her father was eager for her to marry, but how could he force her into the company of this stinking, hairy, obnoxious–
"Stay thirsty then." Erik shrugged, took a long drink of ale and dragged his arm across his mouth. "But if you drink, it might relieve some of your fears and shyness."
Bera stared at him, aghast. Was he simply ignoring her rejection or was he as stupid as he was dirty?
"I'm neither fearful nor shy," she said. "What I am is discerning."
He gave a snort of laughter. "What you are is spoiled. You are so old yet unmarried because your father hasn't forced you to face the responsibilities of a woman. Once you do, you might find pleasure in it."
Never in her life had Bera been this furious. Even when she'd been a skinny, ugly child laughed at by boys and girls alike, she had never felt such burning rage toward anyone.
"I am yet unmarried because until a few mere months ago no one asked for my hand," she snapped.
He drank more ale, then glanced at her with what could have been a snarl but might have been a grin. She wondered how such a dirty man had such beautiful teeth. They were even, almost white and none of the visible ones were missing. At least now she knew why they called him Ice Tooth.
"Then why haven't you jumped at the offers?"
"Because I am still deciding."
"If you're still deciding then you can't be too happy with them. Are they here?" He lifted his chin that was covered in a beard as black and straggly as the hair on his head. Of course most warriors who just arrived from a sea voyage, as Erik and his men had, looked unkempt, their hair windblown. Usually their clothing smelled of the sea, however, not of a dung pile.
"Is who here?" she asked, once again edging away from him. He wrapped an arm around her waist and dragged her close to his side. Her cheek pressed against his wool tunic and she nearly gagged at the stench. It smelled as if he'd donned this particular tunic before the first battle he'd ever fought and hadn't removed it since.
"The men who hope to marry you. If I had asked for your hand and someone else took you aside to share his ale, it would be grounds for battle."
"They're not here," she said, pushing against him. Unfortunately for her, the body beneath that filthy tunic was as big and hard as a rock. The man was built like a frost giant.
His gaze locked on hers and he touched a calloused fingertip to her cheek and stroked lightly.
"Let me go," she said, unable to keep the anger from her voice. "Unless you enjoy forcing women."
He released her abruptly, leaned against the wall and stared at her, one of his eyebrows cocked. "With your disposition, I'm surprised you've had any offers at all, except that you're very beautiful."
Bera slid away from him and drew some deep breaths. Though the air in the longhouse was never as fresh as outdoors, even the aroma of smoke was better than the stench of this warrior.
"I can see why you're still unwed too," she muttered.
"I've had little time for thinking of marriage." He grunted and sipped more ale. His eyes closed for longer than a blink and she hoped he was finally drunk enough to fall asleep. After how much he'd already consumed, he should have passed out long ago. "Too much work to be done. Ships to build. Hunting and looting. Your father would agree I've served him well."
That was her fear. Since moving here, she had heard her father speak of Erik often. For most of her life she had been fostered by a metal worker and his wife who lived in a nearby settlement. Bera's mother had died shortly after her birth and her father thought it best for her to be reared with a strong female influence. The metal worker's wife, Finna, had been a good friend of Bera's mother and had seemed the best choice to raise her. Months ago the metal worker had died and the King had taken Bera and Finna into his home.
Though her father wasn't cruel, he paid little attention to her, but she listened to his conversations with others and knew who his best warriors were. Erik and his brother, Grim, were his favorites.
She hated to admit that Erik had been right in that she wasn't happy with either marriage offer.
"But a man can't live just to serve his King," Erik said. His dark eyes looked a bit hazy, no doubt from too much drinking. Yet he didn't speak like a drunken man and seemed in control of himself. "If I provide enough to satisfy him, then I also have enough to provide a good home for a wife and family."
"I'm sure you do," Bera said, not wanting to encourage him but too cautious to disagree with a drunken man with a chest and arms like Thor's. And by the look of the chiseled muscles in the long legs stretched out in front of him, every part of him was powerful.
Erik looked at her from the corner of his eye and again offered her the mug. "You're sure you don't want a drink?"
"Then maybe something else might interest you." He placed the ale aside and edged nearer to her.
This time she managed to avoid his grasp and stood, dropping the blanket. "I have to–"
"Yes?" He also stood and braced his hands against the wall, trapping her between his arms.
Bera tried not to gag.
"What's wrong?" he demanded, his brow furrowing. "Are you ill?"
"I think I might be."
"My nearness is affecting you."
"More than you know," she replied, nearly gagging again.
He smiled slightly and leaned closer for a kiss. Bera ducked just before his mouth touched hers. She slipped between his long legs and he spun, wagging a finger in her direction.
"Oh you're slippery as an eel but much prettier."
"How kind of you to notice," she said, then realized her disdain would be wasted on him. "I need some air and can't wait a moment longer."
She bolted across the room and toward the door.
Outside she took deep gulps of fresh air. Leaning against a tree stump, she closed her eyes.
Her eyes flew open and she glanced at her sister, Asgerd, who had followed her.
"Are you ill?"
"No." Bera sighed. "Nearly, but I got away from Erik in time."
"I never realized he was so… potent," Asgerd said.
"He stinks like a dung heap."
"He's certainly not like his brother. Grim carries the scent of the ocean and his eyes look like a stormy sea."
A smile tugged at Bera's lips. Asgerd had never shown much interest in men. She had been content to stay home and care for the King after their mother died. Asgerd was clearly the King's favorite. Though he never said it, it seemed he blamed Bera for their mother's death.
The only man Asgerd ever talked about favorably was Grim.
"I doubt you'd refuse a marriage offer if Grim he made it," Bera said.
"I'm not. Why wouldn't he want you? After all, you're the beautiful one."
"There's nothing wrong with you. Erik is certainly interested." A smile played around Asgerd's lips and Bera practically snarled at her.
"If he washed, he'd be a better choice than Harald or Svein," Asgerd said.
"Then you marry him."
"He hasn't given me a second glance. Neither has Grim for that matter."
"Every other man has, though."
Asgerd lifted her chin. "I'm not interested."
Bera sighed deeply. "We should go inside. It's getting cold out here."
When Bera hurried out of the longhouse, Erik stared after her, thinking what a strange little creature she was. Still he longed to kiss her, caress her dark, silken hair and feel her warm curves against his naked body. Perhaps he shouldn't have had so much to drink. No woman had ever affected him like this before.
Though not a man given to rash displays of emotion, he was decisive about what he wanted. Bera was the King's daughter. By observing her tonight she was a willing worker and she aroused him like no woman he'd ever known. He wanted her and meant to have her before he left for home.
He approached the King who was half dozing on his bench. Erik cleared his throat loudly. The King's eyes snapped open. Grunting, he reached for his blade, then caught sight of Erik standing nearby.
"What is it?" the King asked.
"I would like to marry your daughter. I realize there have been other offers but I feel I am your best choice. She will live in security. I will treat her kindly and pay a generous bride price."
The King's eyes widened slightly, as if surprised. "I don't understand it. Up until a year or two ago no one looked twice at the girl. Now there have been three offers for her. Two brothers, Harald and Svein, have asked for her. Both are fine warriors. I fully intended to give her to one of them when they return for my decision."
Harald and Svein. Erik could scarcely believe the King would allow either fool to marry Bera. They didn't deserve a woman like her. Not only were they unnecessarily rough with females, but they were insanely jealous of each other. Most likely they only made offers to see which of them would win the hand of the King's daughter.
Bera would be far better off with Erik and he intended to have her.
"Unlike the others who have asked for her, I won't leave without her," Erik stated. He was afraid of no man, yet had never been fool enough to provoke the King with a statement such as this. In truth, until this moment, nothing had been important enough. He was a strong, skilled warrior and between trading, hunting and the craftsmanship of his people, he could supply the King with many goods while still remaining wealthy himself. The King knew this as well and the look of anger that sparked his eyes passed quickly.
"The girl has caused a fever in your blood." The King chuckled.
Truer words had never been spoken. Just thinking about Bera's curves made Erik's cock tingle in his trousers. He imagined sheathing it in her hot, wet body. With her, one coupling wouldn't be enough. He wanted her in his bed night after night and he wanted to see her happy. He knew neither Harold or Svein would be good for her, but he did know she would be comfortable and cared for in his home. Once she overcame her skittishness, she would enjoy rutting as much as he did.
"All right, Erik," the King said after a moment. "Let us discuss the bride price."
"Discuss the what?" an older woman who had been sewing by the fire now approached.
"The bride price for Bera," said the King. "Go back to your stitching. This is for men to discuss."
"I thought Bera already had offers?" the woman continued.
Erik stared at her hard and to her credit she met his gaze before turning back to the King. "Are you going to ask how Bera feels about him?"
"Finna, I said sit down!" the King bellowed and pointed to her empty place by the fire. "You might have reared her, but she is still my daughter. She will marry whoever I tell her to."
"Father!" Bera shouted from across the room. "What is going on?"
Erik stared at her and couldn't keep from smiling. She had that fiery look in her eyes again. He resisted the urge to adjust his trousers that were suddenly far too small to comfortably hold his cock. The great snake hadn't been this unruly since he was a boy. This woman was obviously made for him.
Bera approached quickly, Asgerd behind her.
"He's about to bind you to…" Finna's voice trailed off and she pointed at Erik. "To him for life."
"Father, no," Bera shouted, striding over.
"He is strong and a good provider," the King stated. "He has promised you will be well cared for and we were about to discuss the bride price."
"I hope it includes a washing bowl," Finna said under her breath.
Erik shot her a dangerous look, then somewhere in his mind muddled by anger, desire and ale, he remembered falling into the manure pile. Of course this wench was right in that he needed to wash his clothes, but surely women wouldn't be so petty as to hold something like that against a man?
"Silence!" the King roared at Finna.
Bera gently touched Finna's arm. The women exchanged glances and Finna returned to her place by the fire.
"Father, please. I don't want to marry him!"
"Bera, calm yourself," Asgerd said softly, but the dark-haired beauty was too furious to pay attention.
She glared at Erik, her little nose wrinkled in disdain, and said, "We already have two offers. I prefer one of them."
Erik could scarcely believe what he was hearing. She was rejecting him?
"And insult Erik?" the King snapped.
"If I accept him, won't I insult the others?" she said.
The cunning little bitch.
"If they cared so much about my decision, they would have stayed," the King said. "Erik has vowed not to leave without you."
Bera stared at Erik, flames in her dark eyes. "I'll tell you now, you beast, I would rather die, die, die than marry you."
If she had been a man Erik would have run her through with his sword by now. He'd seen how she looked at him earlier, her lustful gaze traveling over his trousers. Maybe she thought this type of teasing would excite him?
"If you don't lower your mouth that will be arranged," the King snarled.
"Father, please." She threw herself on her knees at his feet, her head bowed. How could this witch swing from defiant to pathetic within the space of a heartbeat? Yet she seemed to know her father well. Her outburst had angered him, but by the expression on his face this subservience appeased him. "Please. I'll marry whomever you choose, just not him."
"Why?" Erik demanded. "Why not me?"
Her frenzy ceased and she tilted her face up toward him. For a woman who was weeping piteously, she had not a tear in her eye and those very eyes, dark and gleaming, shot flames in his direction.
"I said you were a spoiled child," Erik stated. "And I was right. I withdraw my offer and I pity the man burdened with you." He turned his attention to the King. "My men and I will leave tonight."
He no longer cared about having his tunic washed so he could travel clean in the morning. He'd rather live with the stink than remain in this house where he'd just been humiliated by a mere woman.
"Erik, she's a foolish girl," the King said. "There are other women. Far prettier ones. She's my daughter, but I admit the truth."
"I respect you as always," Erik told him. "But I have paid tribute to you and there is no reason for us to impose upon your hospitality."
The King looked as if he was about to argue then nodded. "Do what you wish."
Obviously he knew the anger of a rejected man. He was saving himself and his daughter as well as Erik further humiliation.
"Come again after winter," the King stated. "You will stay longer then."
Erik nodded, shouted for his men and left the longhouse without a glance at Bera.