Colum's Viking Captivity, part 4 - a series of well-researched gay erotic short stories - NSFW!

in fiction •  2 years ago

DANEVIRKE – 810 A.D.


Colum shivered again, the heat of his body sapping into the frozen earth beneath him. He had the fur cloak that Viggo had bestowed on him, but that couldn’t protect his head, or his feet. He was six hours into his night’s watch, and he ached to stand up, to walk around and get the blood flowing again. But King Godfrid’s instructions had been strict – no man was to show his head to the enemy, even on a moonless night like this.

It made sense, of course. An eagle-eyed scout could see by starlight, could count the men on the ramparts, and the Franks could strike with full knowledge of how many opponents they would find. Charlemagne’s forces were still far away, by all reports, but erring on the side of caution was the best defense. All the same, it was cold, cold work. 

But this was what it meant to be a Norseman. And Colum was a Norseman now, his past life as an Irish monk far behind him. On nights like this, he had to admit, he longed for Clonmacnoise, his first monastery. A roaring fire in the hearth, trenchers laden with food, ale aplenty… 

He sighed. At the very least he could have been assigned to one of the towers along the vast barrier between Godfrid’s kingdom and the lands of the Franks.

But. What did he have now, instead of comfort and warmth? A pen he wielded now as he wished, restoring ancient pagan manuscripts nearly lost to the world. A sword he wielded in battle to protect his friends, his family, his fellow Norsemen and women...

And he had Viggo. Viggo, who had knocked him senseless on the beach at Iona and taken him into slavery. Viggo, who had used him for his own pleasure, with no thought to Colum’s…and Colum had found such strange, dark satisfaction in that. Viggo, who had seen much, much more than just another slave in Colum, who had made him into a warrior, a Viking.

Wasn’t it worth it, then, to be a little cold? Wasn’t a little suffering worth all that?

Colum heard a rustling behind him. He reached for his sword but in a flash there was a foot on his hand, and another on the back of his neck. 

“Don’t move,” the voice whispered. 

Colum shivered again, but not from the cold. Viggo, who had freed him but was still his master. 

“You’re not to stand up there, my lord,” Colum whispered.

Viggo chuckled softly. 

“That’s true.” He pulled the cloak off Colum, exposing him to the frigid air. Then Viggo settled on top of him, swinging the cloak back over the two of them.

Colum felt the smallest, sharpest pressure at his neck. “I could have killed you,” Viggo whispered, the point of his dagger held with such expertise that it hadn’t drawn a drop of blood. Yet. 

“I could have been one of Charlemagne’s spies, and cut your pretty neck open.”

Colum’s breath came faster. He was a freedman, but a freedman was still in bond to his lord. Viggo couldn’t just kill him now, as he could have when he was a slave. 

But he could…he could, Colum thought. Viggo was a lord, a warrior prince, and Colum? He was nobody. 

Nobody, he thought, but the man he loves. 

“But my lord,” Colum whispered, his excitement growing as he felt Viggo’s erection pressing against his own ass, ever more firmly. “If you cut such a pretty neck, it would be cold and dead when you wrapped your arm around it.”

“Mmm,” Viggo murmured. “That’s true.” The knife’s pressure ceased, and Viggo’s left hand caressed Colum’s throat, gently, as if he was petting a cat. Colum shuddered, but not from the temperature.

Colum wore the same trousers that every Norseman wore, with one exception. Hidden behind a flap on his ass were two buttons, which Viggo had insisted be placed in all of his trousers. Every time Colum sat down, he could feel those buttons pressing on his ass – a reminder that his ass belonged to Viggo. 

Now his master undid them, and slipped his icy fingers through the opening. Colum jolted at the touch of them on his cheeks. 

Viggo laughed. “Should I have warmed them up for you first?”

“No, my lord.” He spread his legs and arched himself up against the strong rough fingers. “I’ll warm them up for you.”

Viggo pulled his hand out, spit on it, and reinserted two fingers through the hole. Colum’s asshole was still tight, even now – the women of Danevirke had laughed at him, mocked him for being sansorðinn, a man willingly used by another man. But they had also taught him the exercises they used on their own parts, to keep them tight, and keep their men happy and bound to them.

Colum relaxed his muscle, accepting, welcoming Viggo’s intrusion. He cursed himself for not bringing the little bag of fat he almost always carried around with him on a string around his neck – a bag of mutton fat he replaced constantly before it went rancid. It was always with him because he never knew when Viggo would want to fuck him – it could be anywhere, anytime.

But, fool that he was, he’d thought he’d never need it tonight. He pressed his face into the ground, flinching at the pain, even as he knew there was more to come. The lack of lubricant was his problem, not Viggo’s – Viggo would force himself in there one way or the other.

Viggo grabbed his hair, and yanked his head back hard. “Keep your eyes on the enemy, Colum. You’re still on watch.”

“Yes, my lord.” He could not shirk either duty tonight, he thought with half a laugh – taking his man’s cock and keeping his lookout would have to be done at the same time. 

The ground was still so cold, but Viggo’s body on top of him, inside, warmed him like the sun. Oh, and it warmed him even more, to hear his name in his lover’s mouth, a mouth next to his ear, against the back of his neck, nuzzling it, then suddenly biting it, hard. 

And as Colum gasped from the pain, Viggo sheathed himself inside Colum, hard and fast. Pain exploded in Colum’s ass and he wanted to scream, but that would give away his position on the ramparts. 

Viggo helped him by covering his mouth with his hand. “Scream into this, fuðflogi,” Viggo whispered, the insult to Colum’s manhood making him dizzy with lust. He was “a man who flees the female sex organ,” he was! He loved it! He loved cock, he loved being used by a man, but this wasn’t just any man, was he, this was his lord, his master…

Viggo’s other hand wrapped around Colum’s neck, but not stroking it like a cat this time. Slowly, insistently, he tightened his grip, making the blood sing in Colum’s head as he got less and less of it to his brain. His eyes hazed over, as if he was traveling into another world. Somehow the lack of blood seemed to make the pleasure in his ass all the more sweet and intense…

Three years now, almost four, he had been with Viggo. And still there were things Viggo had yet to do to him, limits and boundaries he had respected…until the day he decided he wouldn’t. This was a new game, thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Viggo reveled in it, Colum knew, this dark power over Colum’s very existence – all the primal emotions of love and sex and violence merged into one dangerous game.

Then Viggo’s hand left his throat, and his lean, strong forearm took its place. Viggo was a master of pleasure, but also a student – he was learning how much pressure to apply, for how long, to give them both the most exquisitely unendurable joy.

Viggo’s other hand left his mouth, traveled downward, stopping to pinch Colum’s nipple with fingernails like pincers, and it was up to Colum to stifle his own scream now. Then, stunningly, Viggo’s hand moved along Colum’s side, stroking his ribs, caressing his hip, and then slipping into his trousers and wrapping around Colum’s own engorged manhood.

“Oh…” Colum whispered.

“All good servants are rewarded in time,” Viggo said, his lips flush against Colum’s ear so he could feel the wicked smile. Then Viggo bit his earlobe, hard, as he pushed himself deep into Colum just as roughly.

“Fuck,” Colum groaned. 

“Keep your watch,” Viggo reminded him. He relaxed his forearm’s grip on Colum’s throat. “What do you see?”

Colum blinked away the spots he’d been seeing. Spots that were moving, flickering… That weren’t spots at all.

“A…a torch. Two riders and a manservant. One of the riders with a white flag.”

Viggo froze. “Where?” 

“To the left.”

“Ah. The tribute from Dorestad is here. Well, your pleasure will have to wait, then.” 

With that, Viggo grabbed Colum by the shoulders and began to pound away, ruthlessly, efficiently, grunting as he blew his seed into Colum’s ass not half a minute later. 

Colum felt Viggo throbbing inside him, filling him with bliss. Each time Viggo came inside him was like an animal’s marking of a tree, Viggo marking Colum as his territory, again and again until the tree itself was more a record of the marker than anything else. He ached to grab his own cock and stroke it, but as Viggo had commanded, it would have to wait. There was no time.

The Franks were coming. 


Viggo and his men, from the housecarls to the thralls, had been at Godfrid’s court for nearly a year now. The warriors had grumbled when Viggo told them that he was going to serve the King, and that he expected them to follow, but they had followed him nonetheless. Viggo was a leader of men, but the Norsemen were independent folk – without the promise of loot and booty, many would have gone their own way. But Viggo had always been lucky when it came to pillaging, and so they stayed. 

The year had been a fitful one for many of the men. Episodes of raiding and warring against Charlemagne’s forces had been punctuated by long spells of idleness, during which they’d filled the time by drinking and fighting and whoring. They were men not well-suited to filling idle hours with anything but vigorous activity.

But for Colum, it had been a golden age. Scholars across Europe had given him a title – “the Pagan Redeemer,” the apostate who had renounced his Christian faith and joined the Norsemen. The scholar with the perfect memory, who’d spent his time at Iona memorizing classical manuscripts by the wagonload. His job had included scrubbing the “worthless” words of the ancients off of old parchments, so that the precious paper could be reused to make copies of endless theological mutterings.

After leaving the monastery as the Vikings’ captive, he started transcribing those works, which would have been lost to the ages had he not locked it safely in his head. But he didn’t transcribe any more. Now he dictated to a legion of scribes, who made copy after copy for sale to scholars across the globe. And he even had a Greek slave, who was teaching him to read and write in that language as well, which would open a whole new world of knowledge to him.

King Godfrid had shaken his head when Viggo had laid out his plan. “My freedman will need men who have a good hand, a knowledge of Latin, and a quick mind. And we will need a building with plenty of light, a building with white walls and apertures in the roof…”

Godfrid snorted from his throne. “And you are asking for me to fund this nonsense?”

“No, my lord. I will fund it.” 

Godfrid raised his eyebrows but said nothing. 

“I ask your permission as my King to use your land to build the necessary establishment. And, of course, a percentage of the profits would go to Your Majesty. And,” he smiled, “Your Majesty’s gracious sale to me, of any captured thralls who can do the job.”

“How can there be profit from paper?”

Colum had prepared a balance sheet, listing the prices that scholars as far away as Byzantium and Arabia would pay for manuscripts. Viggo read it to Godfrid, who couldn’t read himself.

The King had been silent, his face disbelieving. Finally he waved a hand. “Well, Viggo, it’s your money you’re throwing away. You may proceed.”

Colum’s proudest day had come six months later, when Viggo had brought him back to court, with a bag of gold in hand. 

With Viggo standing just behind him, Colum had knelt at the King’s feet and said, in his now-perfect Norse, “My King, I am pleased to deliver your portion of the proceeds from our great enterprise.”

“How much?” Godfrid asked, looking at the bag.

With a flourish, Colum had opened the bag and spilled the coins on the steps to the throne. They rang loud and clear, to the gasps of the court, for they were all gold.

“A pound in gold, my King. Of course,” he’d said casually, “the first six months were a bit rocky, I spent quite a bit of time training the scribes, so naturally it will be more next time.”

Godfrid looked at him shrewdly. “I see. And what might this court do, to make it more next time?”

Colum had been ready for that. “My Lord, if you were to command your men to preserve every manuscript they find in their raids and conquests, and bring them here, to me…” He thrilled at the idea, that the river of learning that had been pouring into the sea, lost forever, could be redirected now, by this King, to him.

Godfrid waved a hand. “It will be so.”

He had bowed deeply, retreating with Viggo. But Godfrid’s voice had stopped them. “Viggo.”

Viggo turned. “My King?”

“You knew the value of this man, didn’t you, when you took him as your slave?”

Viggo nodded. “Yes, my King.”

“You knew from your days as a slave to the Franks, when they taught you to read and write, what these words could be worth?”

“Yes, my King.” In a raid against the Franks, a decade ago, Godfrid had rescued Viggo and some other Norse captives, and brought them into his household. He had turned them into warriors, Viking. That was why Viggo, once a Prince in his own land, who bowed to no other man, readily acknowledged him as King.

Godfrid patted his beard thoughtfully. Then he sighed and looked at Colum. “Well, go then, alchemist, and make gold out of paper.”

Colum bowed but as he did, he shivered. The words of Dýrfinna echoed in his head, the wise woman’s prophecy that had made so little sense when she had said it, back when he was still Viggo’s slave:

Scholar, lover, warrior, merchant, magician, scholar. Each and all in time.

And now the wheel had turned full circle. A scholar taken from his monastery, turned into a Viking’s lover, who became a warrior by his side… And now a merchant of manuscripts, works seemingly brought forward centuries out of the past as if never lost. Words turned into gold… To those who knew only one lucrative industry – plunder – sure that was the act of a magician.

But what did she mean by “each and all in time?” Would a day come when he was a scholar again? When all this was gone, ashes and dust? Would he be alone again in a cold room, with only his books?

At the time, he’d shaken it off. The future was the future. He would face it when it came. For the time being, he had work to do.


Now, his loins aching with Viggo’s spent seed and his own, painfully unspent climax, he and Viggo hastened to the King’s court. 

The Franks were there, two wealthy citizens of Dorestad with a large chest. Their faces were grim, and their bows were as shallow as they could reasonably make them.

“We have brought you your tribute, King Godfrid, as agreed.” 

“Open it,” the King commanded.

The older Frank produced a key on a chain and unlocked the chest. He flung the top open and the court murmured like greedy children at the sight of sweets. 

Godfrid had grown strong, his holdings vast, his navy powerful. So powerful that just this last month, he had merely to threaten the great market city of Dorestad, and they had vowed to pay him 100 pounds of silver to go away. 

But that only happened because Viggo had marshaled the raiders into organized troops, and engineered their landings strategically across the shoreline, with another mass of men threatening the city from the landward side.

And that, Colum knew, was because he and Viggo had planned it together – Viggo, from his great experience in battle, and Colum from his reading of the great commentaries of Caesar, and the classical narratives of other wars and battles. He’d read Thucydides and Herodotus in translation, though of course soon enough he’d be able to read them in the original Greek. Together, they had made Godfrid into a true challenge to the Franks.

Viggo had sent a letter, written in Colum’s hand, to the merchants of Dorestad. In perfect Latin and an elegant hand that had shocked the city perhaps more than the threat of violence, Viggo laid out the practical reasons why the city should pay - Charlemagne’s forces were too distant, the city depended on a constant stream of food from outside the walls, which Viggo had now cut off from land and sea, the devastation the raiders would wreak was well known to them. Starvation, rape, pillage, fire, enslavement…all could be avoided with a single chest of silver.

And here it was. Godfrid nodded at Colum, who came forward to inspect the chest. Colum doubted that the men would deceive the King by providing debased or forged coins, but it would be a good lesson to them to see a scholar in the King’s court.

“The coins are marked Karlus Imp. Aug., my King. This batch doesn’t have the Rex F et L marking, but they are real.”

One of the merchants gasped. “You,” he whispered. “The apostate!”

“Silence!” the King shouted at them.

Colum smiled. “Yes. Paganus. Vadere, et ad imperatori loquere.” Go, and tell the Emperor. He reached into his pocket and flamboyantly tossed a handful of walnuts into his mouth – the nuts were rare and nearly as precious as gold. 

Colum knew it wasn’t wise – it was a dare, a challenge. He knew there was a price on his head, a heavy price the Emperor and the Pope had pronounced. Colum, the former Irish Christian monk, turned Viking, rebel, traitor…and worst of all, pagan and apostate, denier of God – their God, anyway.

The Franks bowed their way backwards out of the King’s presence, but their eyes were fixed on Colum, full of hatred. 

“Viggo,” the King said when they were gone. “Come forward.”

Viggo knelt beside Colum and the chest of silver.

“You acquitted yourself well at Frisia. More like a general than a raider. And thanks to you, we have this bounteous gift from the good merchants of Dorestad.”

“Thank you, my King.” 

 “I need men like you, Viggo. As more than just warriors. You know what comes soon,” Godfrid said carefully. “And when it does, I will need more than just Vikings. I will need princes. You were once a prince, Viggo.”

He hesitated. “I am an old man. And my sons are young. Too young to rule when I’m gone.” He sighed. “And my brother, well, he has betrayed us, given his allegiance to Charlemagne.”

“You have your nephew, my King,” Viggo said politely, bowing to the figure of a glowering brute of a man, hanging in the shadows behind the King. 

Hemming’s eyebrows already met over his nose, and now Colum thought they looked like two caterpillars kissing as he furrowed his brow in undisguised anger. He was a stupid man, Colum knew – a violent man, good in a shield wall in the heat of battle, but useless anywhere else. 

“Yes,” Godfrid sighed. “My nephew.” It was no secret that Godfrid’s favorite had been Hemming’s brother Reginold, who’d died in battle two years earlier. Hemming was his closest living blood relative, other than his sons. But the man was a dolt, Colum knew. 

The King shook himself. “But we are Norsemen, and we are not led by men because of their blood. We are led by those who can fight, who can bring profit.” 

The court shouted its agreement. Or most of it, Colum noticed, his eyes sweeping the crowd, reading faces, marking the ones who scowled or shook their heads, or perhaps more dangerously, remained expressionless. 

The King had brought profit, Colum could see clearly. The Norsemen were bound to their leaders through gifts, and the chance at loot. The men of the court practically glowed with all the gold arm rings they displayed. Colum himself wore only a few – he had accumulated far more gold than he dared display. He was a freedman, acknowledged as a great warrior, but it wouldn’t do to flaunt his wealth in the sight of those born free.

“And it is such men who can rule other men. Who are not only strong and prosperous, but also wise, and fair, and just. Viggo Haraldsson, kneel before me.”

The court was deathly still. Viggo knelt.

“I acknowledge that you are the rightful heir to your father’s kingdom. I acknowledge that when the day comes that the Franks are banished from that land once again, you shall be King there. And as you are of royal blood, I command you to act as Regent after my death, to rule until my sons come of age.”

The court applauded, men stomping their approval. 

Colum turned to see what Hemming thought of that, but he was gone.

“Now you must marry!” The King roared, and the men roared with him. “Marry and give us more warriors!”

Viggo laughed and smiled and nodded. And inside Colum, a little something shriveled and died. Would that be how Dýrfinna’s prophecy ended, with himself a lonely scholar again? He had his own vision now, more a premonition – himself, alone and lonely, with only his books, as Viggo took his pleasure with a woman, a wife, and raised a squadron of little warriors with her. 

 “Now,” Godfrid said to the court. “Leave us. We have matters to discuss.”

The room began to empty. Colum turned to leave as well, but the King’s voice stopped him. 

“Not you, alchemist. You stay here.”

Colum inclined his head and retook his discreet position behind Viggo. 

“Now,” the King said, rising from his throne and moving to a great oak table covered with a cloth. He tore the cloth off to reveal a map, carved into the wood. 

“Here,” Godfrid pointed, “Charlemagne is moving towards us now. Our ruse has worked.”

“Ruse?” Viggo said dubiously. “My King, do you mean that the threat to Dorestad was…”

Godfrid grinned. “Yes. Great Karolus is humiliated by our ability to so easily disrupt the ‘Frisian Venice.’ And he must avenge the humiliation.” The King frowned. “They say he is even angrier now, because his precious pet elephant died on their way here. Such is the man’s nature – he will not blink at beheading thousands of Saxons, but he weeps like a woman for his strange pet... He will come in battle order, and his army will crash like waves against our shield walls. And then we shall feed the raven!” he concluded triumphantly. 

Viggo nodded. Colum opened his mouth, hesitated. A small sound came out of him before he repressed it.

Godfrid looked up at him from his map. “Yes? You object?”

Viggo cast a warning glance at Colum, but to no avail. He had to speak.

“My King, I have studied the works of the ancients, including the histories of their great wars and battles. Ammianus Marcellinus tells us that the Romans fell to the Huns because ‘they are very quick in their operations, of exceeding speed, and fond of surprising their enemies. With a view to this, they suddenly disperse, then reunite, and again, after having inflicted vast loss upon the enemy, scatter themselves over the whole plain in irregular formations, always avoiding a fort or entrenchment.’ And truly this is the Viking way of fighting anyway…”

Godfrid snorted. “Ha! Yes, that is the Viking way of fighting. In skirmishes, in raids. But not the way to defeat an army, resoundingly, in a manner that will echo across Europe. No. We will fight the Frankish way, and show them who is the master of war.”

Colum knew it was useless to say more. At least, here, now. He saw Viggo’s face, tense, thoughtful, and sighed inwardly with relief. His master had heard him, and his master would think on it. 


When Godfrid released them, they walked in the cold to their house. “At the very least,” Colum said, not willing to let it go. “We should make their approach more difficult. Herodotus tells us how the Scythians defeated the great Darius, by driving off their herds, choking off wells, and leaving the fields scorched and bare of food so that the enemy had nothing to forage…”

“So,” Viggo said, “the Scythians destroyed Darius?”

“They did not destroy the army, no. But the Great King retreated. He was beaten.”

“But the Persians lived to fight again.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Hmm. This is where your sources fail us. Charlemagne is driven by something Darius was not. Religious fervor will, as you know, make a man mad in pursuit of his goals. Charlemagne will be driven by the fear of Hell itself to come at us again and again, until we are converted or exterminated. And Godfrid is driven, too – he wants to be seen as a King, not a raider. To accomplish that, he must win a traditional battle, the traditional way.”

Colum frowned. “I see, yes.” Colum shivered and drew his cloak tighter around himself.

Viggo put an arm around Colum’s shoulders. It was magic, as if the very touch of his lover’s body banished the cold. “You heard the King speak of my marriage.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“I will marry. I will have children. I want sons.”

“Of course, my lord,” Colum agreed, trying to keep the despondency out of his voice.

Viggo stopped, turned Colum to face him, and put his hands on Colum’s face. “Speaking of antiquity. Know this. You will always be Hephaestion to my Alexander, Colum. No woman, no household, nothing will ever come between us. Yes?”

Colum nodded, overwhelmed with love, with gratitude. Finally, Viggo had assured him on the one subject he had dreaded most – that he would be cast aside for a woman.

“Yes, my lord. Achilles and Patroclus, Hephaestion and Alexander.” He laughed. “None of them will hold a candle to us.”

Viggo kissed him then, with surprising tenderness. Then, before parting from his lover’s face, Viggo bit Colum’s lip, a sharp, stinging pain that drew blood. 

Viggo’s own lips were red with a drop of Colum’s blood. He drew his dagger, and pricked his finger, then put it to Colum’s mouth.

Colum tasted the blood, rich and metallic, healthy and strong.

“Now we are blood brothers, too,” Viggo said. “Come, brother. Let us drink to our everlasting friendship.”

Colum smiled, delirious with joy. “Yes, lord. Let us drink.”


After several pots of ale, Colum was speaking freely, one man to another. “The King doesn’t have the numbers to defeat Charlemagne outright. The old way, the Scythian way, the Hun’s way,” he pounded the table, “that’s the way. I know, I know, he can’t be pushed back, he’ll just come again. But think of the dispiriting effect of so many ambushes, surprise attacks, think of what it would do to the minds of men to have their fellows picked off one by one in the night.”

Viggo grinned and toasted him. “Your blood is up, warrior. If you were so inclined, now would be the time for you to take a woman.”

Colum laughed. “Yes, if I were so inclined, but…”

At that moment, the servant’s entrance at the back of the room opened, and Niall walked in, with a new cask of ale. Colum and Viggo looked at each other, then laughed darkly.

Niall had been a monk, as well. He and Colum had been the only survivors of the massacre at Iona. Niall had taken to the life of a slave, to a shocking degree – he had found joy in service to his first brutal master, who had used all his holes as receptacles for his seed whenever he cared to. Niall had…reveled in the abuse, the taste of a man’s cock, the feel of it in his ass, the rough hands slapping him and shoving him into the ground.

Another Northman, an enemy of Colum’s, had attempted to take Niall as his own slave, just so he could kill him and revenge himself on Colum. The Viking way meant that a slave was nothing, and a master could kill one with little or no reason. Viggo had freed Colum long enough for Colum to meet his enemy in battle as a free man, and defeat him. Then he had returned to Viggo’s service, bringing Niall with him. Niall had become Viggo’s slave…and now he was Colum’s.

It had felt strange, at first, treating his old friend like…a rag, a cloth into which a young man would spill his seed alone in his bed. But Viggo had told him – make him your slave, treat him like your slave, or men will think you weak, and kill you, and take him for themselves.

And Colum had found something dark in himself, something…strong. Masculine. Just as much as he reveled himself in being dominated by Viggo, so too did he love to turn the tables, to ravage Niall as Viggo ravaged him.

Niall blinked, then smiled, his face going slack with anticipated pleasure. He could read their faces, and he knew what was coming.

“My lords,” he whispered.

Colum spread his legs. “On your knees.”

Niall was between Colum’s legs in a flash, reaching to undo his breeches. Colum slapped him, hard. 

“I did not tell you to do that.”

Niall gasped with the shock, but then the sting became a rush of pleasure. “Sorry, my lord.”

Viggo got up, grabbing Colum’s discarded leg wrappings. He moved behind Niall and quickly bound his wrists behind him. “Now he won’t touch you without your permission again.”

“Thank you, my lord,” Niall cried as Viggo pulled the knot tight. 

Colum laughed. “You’re hurting him. And he loves it.”

“Yes!” Niall nearly shouted.

Colum slapped him again. “Shut up.” He tore his breeches open and stood up, dropping them and shoving his already hard cock into Niall’s mouth.

Viggo’s eyes bored into his. Colum’s hands were by his side, in a warrior’s stance, ready to draw a weapon, the look in his own face a challenge to Viggo.

Viggo responded by grabbing Niall’s head and shoving it down on Colum’s shaft. Niall choked and gagged, but neither of his masters showed him any mercy. Viggo tossed Colum the other set of wrappings, and Colum looped them around his hands like reins. He yoked Niall’s head with them and pulled, hard, forcing him to take Colum’s meat to the root, cutting off his air. 

Colum watched as Niall’s face turned red, then purple, until the first note of real panic, real fear came into his eyes. Then he released him, and Niall bent over, gasping for breath.

Colum looked into Viggo’s eyes as he spoke.

“Now you know what it is, to be at death’s doorstep, at the hand of your master.” 

Viggo’s eyes glittered as his hand idly went to his dagger, a reminder to Colum that he could be in the same position, any time. Which only inflamed his lust even more.

“Stay down,” he commanded Niall. “Keep your ass in the air.”

He got behind Niall, looking appreciatively at his property. Niall’s ass was white and smooth and round, its shape kept perfect by hard labor. 

He looked closer – it was not so white, after all…two great red patches on either cheek marred their beauty.

Colum raised an eyebrow. “What’s this, slave? Has another man been beating you?” He growled. “Has another man dared to use my slave as only I may use him?”

“No, my lord. No other master, just…just two slaves alone at night and…one of them missing his master very much.”

Colum laughed. “Ah. Yes, it’s been a while, hasn’t it, since I’ve given you what you need.” He looked at Viggo. “We’ve been neglecting our hearth, my lord.”

Viggo chuckled. “The fire has kept itself banked, it seems.”

Colum examined the red marks critically, running his hand over them. “Why, these are barely anything. When did you and your fellow slave play this game?”

“Last night, my lord.”

“What! Why, a real master would have given you welts that would last for days. Your playmate wasn’t very enthusiastic about being a master, was he?”

“Not at all, my lord. Not nearly.”

Viggo handed Colum a belt without a word between them. “You must punish your slave,” Viggo said. “Slaves may play little slave games together, but for one to act as a master? It’s wrong.”

“And since the one who played master isn’t here, we’ll just have to punish this one, won’t we?”

Niall whimpered, grinding his forehead into the rug, steeling himself for what came next.

Colum stood up, snapped the belt a few times to test its weight and power. He doubled it and considered Niall’s ass for a moment. Then, with expert aim, he brought the belt down, hard as a whip, again and again.

Niall shouted. “Thank you, my lord!”

Viggo and Colum laughed. “He likes it,” Viggo said.

“Too much,” Colum agreed. “I’m not doing it hard enough, obviously.” He handed Viggo the belt. “You try it.”

Viggo was leaner than Colum, and taller, and he brought the belt down on Niall’s ass as he’d wield a sword, hard and swift.

Niall screamed with the pain, which only excited his masters. Nobody would come to investigate, nobody would care if a man was beating his slave, or doing anything else to him he cared to do for his pleasure.

The crack of the belt and Niall’s screams, then groans, then gasps, nearly drowned out the commotion outside.

Viggo paused. “There’s something going on.”

Voices were raised in alarm, and the crack of sword on sword was distinct now. Viggo dropped the belt and went for his sword, but he’d unbelted it and laid it down, as a Northman would only do just before bed. 

And when the door burst open, there was no time to do anything other than draw his dagger. Hemming, the great brute, was first in the room, an evil grin on his face. He and the three other men behind him had their swords drawn and ready.

Colum and Viggo instinctively stood together, against the invaders. Colum grabbed the belt and began flailing wildly at the intruders. 

“The King!” Colum shouted at Niall. “Go through the back and sound the alarm, bring the King’s men!” Niall fled through the servant’s entrance at the back of the room, and nobody stopped him. Who cared what a slave did?

“Let him run. The King is dead,” Hemming said. “And you, ‘Prince’ Viggo, are no Regent. You’re a dead man, too. After a fair trial, of course,” he laughed. “For the murder of the King.”

Viggo and Colum looked at each other, silently deciding. Should they go down fighting, die here and now, together? But a trial meant time, and time meant opportunities, to change the game, to change the odds.

“And that one, your butt boy. There’ll be a trial for him, too.”

At that, more men flew into the room. But they weren’t Norsemen.

“You bastard,” Viggo whispered, as all became clear. He moved toward Hemming but his men seized Viggo before he could reach his enemy’s throat and crush it with his bare hands.

The new men were dressed and barbered in the Frankish manner. They ignored Viggo and seized Colum. 

“The price of my kingship was low,” Hemming said. “And now we will have peace with the Franks. All the assistance I required was given me by Charlemagne in exchange for one thing. This one, the apostate. Delivered in one piece for trial.” 

“Take his sword, too,” the Frankish commander said. “Evidence.”

“Colum!” Viggo shouted as the Franks dragged his lover away. “I will come for you.”

“And I will wait for you, my lord,” Colum said, a smile still on his face even as the pommel of a sword smashed him into unconsciousness.


Colum woke in darkness. He rolled over and heard the rattle of chains before he felt them. He was terribly cold. He got up to try and move around, his body aching and stiff. Clearly he’d received a beating after he’d been knocked out.

The sounds of his movement brought a torch closer to the iron bars of his cell. 

“He’s awake,” the voice said. “Fetch the priest.”

Colum walked gingerly around the cell, as far as he could in the chains that bound his ankles and wrists, trying to get the blood back to his cold-numbed feet and hands.

Viggo. His heart ached to think of his lover. Where was he now? Dead already, after some mockery of a trial? Hemming as King of the Danes, sitting on that throne, passing judgment on Viggo for regicide…it didn’t bear thinking about.

No. He could not, would not believe that Viggo was dead. I would know it. I would feel it in my soul. Colum felt strong, angry, alive – so Viggo must still live, too.

If only I really was a magician. If only I could fly across the land to him, into his strong arms…

The jailer’s keys rattled as he opened the cell door. Two burly men came in first, followed by a small man in a priest’s robes, a large cross around his neck. He had a tonsure, and small-set eyes over thin, quivering lips. He had the slack double chin of a thin man grown fat in idleness. The kind of monk Colum’s first abbot would have whipped into shape, back at Clonmacnoise. 

The guards set a stool down for him, and the priest made the sign of the cross over them. “Bless you, my sons. You may leave us. I have nothing to fear here.” His smile was beatific, his skin almost feverish in its shine.

Of course he has nothing to fear, Colum almost laughed. That stool is just out of the range of these chains that bind me.

The priest addressed him in Latin. “Colum, my son. I am Father Aethelred. And I weep with joy to see you here. Now at last the error of your ways can be revealed to you.”

Colum leaned against the wall, folding his arms, the chains clanking as he did. He responded in equally polished Latin. “The error of my ways. Yes, I would like to hear you tell me all about my errors.”

“The world says that you have turned away from God. That you have embraced the…so called religion of the pagans. That you have killed Christian men in battle. I pray God you tell me now it is all a lie.”

“It is all true.”

“And you opened the gates of Iona, did you not? You betrayed your fellow monks to the raiders.”

“No!” Colum shouted. “That’s a lie.” He had heard this lie before, when he and Viggo’s men had raided a monastery in Northumbria. The preposterous story that Colum had enthusiastically joined the Vikings in their depredations, and drank the blood of the other monks.

In fact he had done just the opposite – marshaled the monks of Iona like a frightened herd of sheep, organized their defenses, and walked out of the gates, alone, to face the Northmen’s leader in single combat. His honorable gesture had saved his life, but other than himself and Niall, the rest of the monks had been slaughtered. 

Only now did it occur to him – how had anyone in Northumbria even known that I’d survived? Unless… Unless Niall and I weren’t the only survivors… 

Aethelred shook his head. “Well, God will forgive you, my son, if you only repent. Do you know what happened to the…leader of that most vile people, the ones who took you into slavery, who put this demon in you?”

“No…” Colum whispered, dreading the priest’s next words. Was his soul so wrong, to believe that Viggo still lived?

Aethelred clasped his hands together and lifted his eyes to the sky. “This wicked man, Viggo by name, struck the abbot of Iona dead. And yet, it took one hundred blows to kill that great man. And with each blow, the barbarian’s arm grew weaker, until the Curse of the Lord was upon it. And now he walks the earth, no longer a warrior, for the curse has so withered his arm that…”

Colum burst out laughing, first from relief that Viggo wasn’t dead, and then from the absurdity of the story. 

Father Aethelred’s face now turned dark, and he began to shout at Colum, spittle flying as he did. “You laugh! You mock God’s judgment!”

“Ah,” Colum said, bringing his hand to his chin and stroking it thoughtfully. “Yes, let us turn to God’s judgment. Did not Alcuin himself say that the Northmen’s attack on the monastery at Lindisfarne, some years before my own…experience at Iona, must surely be one of two things?”

“You will defend yourself with the words of great Alcuin?”

“In his letter to Higbald, he said, let’s see if I can remember it,” he said lightly, knowing that his perfect memory would not miss a word. “ ‘What assurance can the churches of Britain have, if Saint Cuthbert and so great a company of saints do not defend their own? Is this the beginning of the great suffering, or the outcome of the sins of those who live there? It has not happened by chance, but is the sign of some great guilt.’ 

“So,” Colum concluded, “it was either a sign that the End of Days was close, or…that the men who died had it coming. That God was chastising them for some sin unseen by the rest of us. Should this not be true also of Iona? And Dorestad? And anywhere else the Vikings raid? Does it not prove,” Colum smiled, “that the pagans themselves are instruments of God?”

The little man was shaking now, with a rage that would be terrible to behold if it weren’t so ridiculous.

“How dare you. Death is too good for you. Hell, and all its torments, are not enough for you.” He knocked over the stool in his haste to leave the cell. 

“It’s not Hell that awaits me,” Colum said, rattling his chains as he raised his arms high, as if giving a benediction at Mass. “My brothers await me in Valhalla. I cannot die with a sword in my hand, but I promise you this. Tie me to a stake for burning, and I shall grasp it with all my strength, till my last breath, and that will be the mighty weapon I take with me into the afterlife. And my brothers will welcome me as a great warrior.”

Father Aethelred nodded. “Yes. You are surely possessed by a demon. Shall I tell you what comes next,” he said, licking his lips. “You will be exorcised of the demon within you. You will be excommunicated. And then…you will be handed over to the civil authorities. To be prosecuted for murder.”

“For murdering whom, may I ask?”

“Ah, but you betrayed your countrymen to the Vikings. And for that, you will receive the sentence you deserve.”

Colum only smiled. He was still alive, Viggo was still alive. There was hope yet. 

“Wonderful. I shall refresh my memory of Cicero’s trial speeches while I wait.”


The exorcism was a farce. Father Aethelred led the charge against the demon allegedly inside him. He pointed a finger at the apostate and cried out, “Demon, I banish you in the name of God!”

Everyone waited for something to happen. Colum shook his head, amazed at their ignorance. 

That was the sign that he was still possessed. Aethelred turned up the heat. “In the name of CHRIST, I banish you.”

Colum examined his fingernails, and began whistling the tune of a Norse drinking song.

Then the priests came closer. “Bind him,” Aethelred commanded the guards. They seized Colum’s arms and held them behind his back as the priests gathered around him.

Aethelred blew on Colum as if he was a candle, and the other priests followed suit. This, Colum knew, was the recommendation of St. Justin for dealing with demons – who would fly from the touch and breathing of Christians as if burnt.

“Ouch,” he muttered.

After this failed against the clearly powerful demon, clearly it was time to move on the laying of hands. Colum noted that one of the younger priests’ hands were shaking as he touched Colum’s chest. Colum looked the handsome young man in the eyes and saw, yes, one of his own kind – one who yearned for the touch of another man. The priest looked away quickly, muttering a prayer, his face contorted.

Colum’s dark laughter at this spectacle left him then, as he was moved to pity. This poor creature would spend the rest of his life in agony, truly possessed by the demon of self-loathing, self-denial. 

That could have been me! he thought. Viggo, you have saved me. You, you were my Redeemer. The complete and utter blasphemy of that thought shocked even Colum, steeped as he was in pagan lore. But it was true. 

He smiled, calm and peaceful and…yes, ready for his death. If death was the penalty he’d pay now, even at this young age, it had been worth it, to be a Viking, to be Viggo’s man. To have truly lived a life, and not just sat in a room, reading of the great lives of others, and dreaming about them…

“See!” Aethelred crowed. “The light in his face! The spirit moves him! The demon is gone.” The others nodded. What other reason could bring such joy to a man? 

“Now we can bind him over to the secular authorities for trial.”

“You save my soul, just so that it can be severed from my body?”

Aethelred nodded vigorously. “The life to come, my son, is far more important than this one. The demon is gone. Now you are ready for the afterlife.”

Not yet, I’m not, Colum thought grimly. There must be a way to stay in this life a little longer…


Colum was hauled through the streets to a church and set before a gaggle of priests. At least now he knew where he was – Dorestad, the city so recently threatened by the Vikings. 

Not so far from my people, Colum thought. If only I can make my escape…

His path through the streets, to the hall where a court had hastily been assembled, had been clearly announced. Men, women and children lined the road, shouting and throwing rotten vegetables at him. “Blasphemer! Murderer! Traitor!” 

A rock glanced his skull, drawing blood, but at that one of his guards jumped into the crowd and set to thrashing the responsible party. The invisible rules were clear. Humiliation could be performed by the people, but punishment belonged to the state.

The local Count had been appointed by Charlemagne to maintain justice in his county, and a magistrate was also present, to read the charges against him, and call a series of witnesses. The hall was packed with spectators, mostly local grandees who had only just finished helping to pay the heavy toll the Vikings had extracted from them in exchange for their lives.

The trial was as much a mockery as the exorcism. Snippets of the Codex Justinian were mixed up with Bible verses.

“Let us remember the exhortation in Jeremiah 1:14,” the magistrate said. “That ‘From the north an evil will spread out upon all the inhabitants of the land.’”

“From the north of where?” Colum interjected. “Jeremiah wrote in the Holy Land, did he not? So what is north of that? Why, the entire Frankish empire. So your Northern Emperor’s conquests might be considered to be the ‘great evil’ spoken of in Jeremiah. I’m sure the Saxons he executed by the thousands would agree…”

“Silence him!” the magistrate shouted.

“You cannot silence me,” Colum said. “I have a right to defend myself.”

“Bring in the first witness!” 

Colum heard him before he saw him. Never, ever would he forget that sound.

Brother Fedelmid. His persecutor, his nemesis at Iona, the great sloshing bucket of lard whose heavy, labored breathing gave him away from a hundred feet.

Fedelmid, who had taken every opportunity to thrash Colum – not just to punish him for his disobedience, his obsession with classical authors to the detriment of the words of the Church fathers. No, Fedelmid had reveled in stripping Colum naked, his rancid breath coming hotter and faster as he flogged Colum’s smooth, firm ass, the other hand bouncing furiously beneath the folds of his robe (and the folds of his fat as well) as he brought himself to frenzied climax.

“You,” Colum hissed.

Fedelmid leered at him. He was, astonishingly, even fatter than ever. “My lord,” he said unctuously, bowing to the Count. “It is true, by the grace of God I have survived the fury of the Northmen. I tried to save my brethren,” he said sadly, shaking his head. “But there was no chance…after this one,” he said, pointing at Colum, his chins quivering as much as his finger, “opened the gates to the murderers!”

“No!” Colum shouted. “He is a liar, and a pervert, who makes sport with the monks who are subject to him. He uses them for his vile sexual desires…”

“Enough!” The Count shouted. “You will not so insult a man of God in this court.”

Colum fumed. Fedelmid looked at him with his little piggy slit eyes, glittering with triumph. If any should have died that day, it should have been you, Colum thought.

“Bring the other witness,” the magistrate crowed.

Colum blinked. He looked at the man being escorted into the courtroom. It couldn’t be.

“State your name,” the magistrate said.

“Niall Ó Brádaigh.”

Niall! His best friend, his…yes, his slave, but whom he’d enslaved only to protect him from the other Vikings, who would have taken him and treated him far worse than Colum and Viggo had.

His heart sank, as he died a little inside. It was one thing to face Fedelmid, a known enemy. But for Niall to be here? To have betrayed him, Viggo…everything?

“And your profession?”

“For three years, I have been a slave of the Northmen.”

“God save you, my son!”

“Thank you, sir.” Niall clasped his hands and raised his eyes to the sky. “I have indeed been saved! Praise God for aiding my escape!”

“Praise God!” the spectators shouted.

Colum frowned. That didn’t sound like Niall at all. 

“And this man, the accused, is it true that he aided the Northmen, that he opened the gates to Iona for them?”

Niall wept. “Oh, your lordships, it is all true! What a terrible day that was, with blood and fire and the laughter, the wicked, wicked laughter of that man as the raiders…oh, I cannot go on!”

Colum nearly laughed. It was the performance of a lifetime. But why? Why had Niall come here, pretending to be an escapee? 

It hit him like a thunderbolt. Viggo! Viggo was still alive! And planning something. 

Colum had to buy time. A conviction now, a death sentence, would be carried out immediately. 

 “The trial is over,” decreed the Count, charged with administering justice in this part of Charlemagne’s empire. “The sentence is…”

Words flew out of Colum’s mouth without him even thinking about them. “I demand trial by combat!”

The court gasped. 

The Count looked at him sharply. “The law does not allow for trial by combat in such a case as this. If you were to ask for trial by ordeal…”

That wouldn’t do at all, Colum knew. The trial by ordeal would require him to pull a stone out of a pot of boiling water, or walk on hot coals, or grasp a red hot bar of iron, without injury. Or, if he was lucky, he would be given three days for the wound to heal properly – any sign of infection would be God’s indication of guilt. 

“Your grace, the Lex Alamannorum allows for a trial by combat over a boundary dispute, does it not?”

“Yes… But that is between two families, not…hmm.”

Colum’s heart soared. Clearly the Count was an aficionado of legal niceties, and at the protests of the magistrate, he held up a hand. 

“I am a Northman now, and what is the conflict between us, but a boundary dispute, albeit on the greatest scale?”

“You are not on trial for being a Northman. You are on trial for murder.”

“Your grace,” Colum said, thinking fast, “when Charlemagne conquered Lombardy, did not the magnates of that land do homage to him? Did they not change their allegiance, in truth, after the conquest?”

“Yes…”

“I was conquered, your grace. Iona was conquered by the Vikings and I was taken into slavery. By my efforts I was raised to the status of freedman, but my allegiance had changed. In truth, I am no more guilty of murder than any lord who has done homage to Charlemagne after killing his troops in battle…”

Father Aethelred stood up, shouting. “The devil’s words! Satan’s tongue, twisting the truth! He is still possessed by a demon!” Cries and prayers went up from the panicked assembly at the knowledge that the Devil was in the room with them.

“Silence!” the Count shouted. “I see that you are learned, Colum of…wherever you’re from now. Perhaps too learned.” The Count looked at him shrewdly. “I think learned enough to somehow survive a trial by ordeal, perhaps.”

Colum held his breath, something building in him. He knew what it was – an almost sexual excitement – a fever, a warrior’s rush. He was going to get what he asked. 

“But a trial by combat? I can see no way for you to use your slippery words or clever learning to get out of that.” The Count nodded, pleased with his own perspicacity. 

“Yes.” The Count stood up and the court stood with him. “A trial by combat it shall be.”


Colum wiped his palms yet again on his breeches. One more time, before emerging from the dark house where he had been allowed to prepare himself. Nobody could see him sweat once he entered the hastily constructed arena – really just the town square, cordoned off by a company of troops. 

The last time he had fought this way, one on one, had been to rescue Niall from the clutches of Harald. The thieving middleman had been robbing Viggo for years, cheating him every time Viggo had brought back loot to be converted to money. When Colum had caught him at it, he had tried to get revenge by tricking Niall’s then-master into selling his slave to Harald. 

Then, Colum had been an amateur fighter, strength and speed his best defense against the more seasoned, albeit less well-conditioned man. Now, he was a warrior, a Viking, who had fought in a shield wall, who had mastered ship-to-ship combat, who had learned the way of the axe and the sword.

He grinned at the thought. Why should I sweat? I am a Viking. I am a killer. Who can the Franks send against me? And if I die, where shall I go but Valhalla, dying with a sword in my hand, fighting the enemies of my people?

He left the house, walking confidently into the light. The town square had been converted into a makeshift arena. Soldiers had formed a phalanx to hold back the bloodthirsty crowd.

Colum’s grin left his face when he saw his opponent.

Of course, he thought. Hemming. The man who had betrayed his King, his people, for what? For a throne. A piece of furniture and no more, really, not among the Northmen. A King was nothing without the loyalty, the trust, and yes, even the affection of his men.

“You send a pagan to fight a pagan?” Colum asked the Count, sitting on a balcony that had been hastily converted into a box suitable for a man of his station.

“I am no pagan,” Hemming said. “I am a Christian now.” He drew his sword and kissed the hilt, as if kissing a cross. 

Naturally – how else would he have the support of the Franks, without the tantalizing lure of his conversion, and the end of his people’s war on Charlemagne?

“As much a Christian as I am,” Colum muttered. Then he drew breath to shout so that all could hear, the challenge he had lain down before Harald, years ago.

“Hemming Halfdansson, you are not a man's equal and not a man at heart.” 

Once that slur had brought a man to blind rage, a rage that had given Colum the advantage. But Hemming was too clever for that.

He smirked. “I will have your heart for dinner, slave.”

“I am no slave.”

Hemming’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Oh, but you are! You see, if you lose, you don’t die today. You,” he tapped the ground with the point of his sword, emphasizing each word. “Will. Serve. Me. Until I am done with you and am quite ready to kill you.”

Colum raised his own sword before his face, saluting his enemy. “Come and take me, then.”

The two men danced around each other, feinting, and the mob grew restless. They wanted blood and they wanted it now! But this, Colum knew, was the real fight – the tests of nerves, of reflexes, the mental combat that would determine how the physical combat proceeded. 

How fast did Colum jump back from the stab of Hemming’s sword? He didn’t jump at that feint, having already calculated that he was out of Hemming’s reach. Did Hemming flinch when Colum swung his blade at his enemy’s face? A little, Colum thought. He tried to cover it up by pretending he’d narrowed his eyes instead, but Colum let the corner of his mouth curve up into a contemptuous smile – a gesture of scorn designed to inflame his enemy.

Yes, he thought, that worked. Hemming was cool in battle, but he was prideful, so prideful. That was the way to defeat him, to work him into a reckless attack.

Hemming kicked a clot of dirt up at Colum’s face, swinging his sword as he did, ready to slice Colum’s left side, should Colum’s hands instinctively rise up to protect his eyes. But Colum knew that trick. He turned on his planted back foot and twisted his whole body to avoid both dirt and sword, getting low as he did and finishing his movement with a slicing motion of his sword at Hemming’s hips.

Colum felt no resistance, and was sure he’d missed. But Hemming’s sharp hiss told him otherwise. When he reset himself in fighting stance, he could see the line the blade had cut in Hemming’s breeches…and his skin, a slash of red just glistening in the sunlight.

Another mistake the Franks had made, he grinned. Allowing him to use his own sword, confiscated when he was abducted and arrested. Charlemagne had good reason for forbidding Frankish traders from selling the Norsemen steel weapons.

Now Colum flipped the sword around, showing the letters engraved on one side of the blade – letters he’d carefully hidden from Hemming till now. +VLFBERH+T.

Hemming scowled, as only a man tricked can scowl. Ulfberht the swordmaker’s blades were rare things indeed, their steel so pure the material could only have come from the far east. It was a good thing that Colum had found an Eastern gentleman eager to trade volumes of Pliny the Elder’s “History of the German Wars” for as much eastern steel as Colum would like to acquire. In exchange for a sword, he had provided Ulfberht with enough metal to make five such blades.

Hemming changed tactics then, charging Colum like a bull. Brute force would have to carry the day, Hemming had realized. His height, his weight so outclassed Colum that it was his one clear advantage.

Colum dodged the first attack, but Hemming was one of those rare beasts, both big and agile. He slashed at Colum with the flat of the blade, smashing Colum’s left shoulder.

The pain was incredible. The meat of Colum’s shoulder took the blow, but the force rippled down his arm like a shock wave. 

But this, too, he had learned to manage – pain was as much an enemy’s weapon as his sword; it could distract you from what was happening outside your body. No matter if his left arm was numb now, he had no shield and he was right handed. 

Hemming hadn’t stopped to gloat, he was too smart for that. He only slowed to see what effect his blow had on Colum, if his enemy had retreated into his own head to regard his pain with wonder.

No. Colum was a warrior now, accustomed to cuts and bruises and knocks on the head and body. He shook himself like a dog, rattling off the fog of pain, and readied himself for more combat.

Hemming used his height and mass to strike downward again, this time with the edge of his blade. Colum raised his own and blocked it, but the force of the blow pushed his blade down, down, till all he could do was slip sideways and let Hemming’s sword drag down the edge of his own.

Hemming struck the same way again, his intention clear – exhaust Colum’s arm, until it could no longer parry the blows. 

Colum let him. There was another thing he’d learned to do, long ago, that served him well now. In the monastery at Iona, he had learned to act – to pretend piety, to pretend repentance, to compose his face so that Brother Fedelmid couldn’t catch him out in a punishable offense. 

Now Colum face’s took on the resigned look of a trapped animal. He let his strength appear to fade just a little more with each blow. He got lower and lower till his knees were on the ground, as if he was just barely fending off Hemming’s attacks. Which, in fact, he was - his sword arm was aching, stinging, nearly numb, but he held it up by force of will.

The scent of victory, Colum well knew, does crazy things to a man. Makes him forget his reason, his intellect, and tells him to give in to the most primal urge – the urge to kill your prey. 

Hemming’s swings came a little slower each time, his grunts more emphatic. He was a big man, and big men tire out their lungs faster than small men. But his exultation at being so near to the kill gave him energy for swing after swing. 

The mob screamed for blood, raising his frenzy higher. Then he made his mistake. He smiled, sure of victory, and when he slowly raised his arm high for the final stroke, that was when Colum roared and with a burst of animal energy thrust his sword up and into Hemming’s guts.

Without Ulfberht’s blade of eastern steel, he would have died with Hemming, the enemy’s blade splitting his undefended skull. But the blade slipped through Hemming’s insides like a warm knife through butter, meeting resistance only when it pierced his spine.

Hemming gasped, looked down with disbelief. The sword raised so high fell out of his hands to the ground behind him.

The mob went silent. Colum withdrew his sword, rotating it to free the blade from the suction of the already-dead man’s body.

He stood as Hemming fell. “Deus locutus est,” he said in Latin. God has spoken.

Father Aethelred screamed. “Kill him! Kill the monster!”

“Shit,” Colum whispered. The mob pressed up against the line of soldiers, who seemed ill-inclined to lose their own lives to save Colum’s.

Then he heard a commotion from the main street, not far from the town gate, a commotion that soon turned into screams. “Raiders! Vikings!”

The mob panicked, trampling each other to flee in the opposite direction. Colum would have been crushed beneath them had he not swung his sword in wild arcs in front of him, making a breach in the tide of humanity as he made for the sound of clashing arms.

He laughed as he saw them, so tall and strong, head and shoulders above the little people of the town. And Viggo, there in the lead, battling his way towards him.

“My lord!” Colum cried, letting his chieftain know where he was. 

“To Colum!” Viggo shouted, and the men pushed toward him, axes and swords clashing against the swords and shields of the Frankish soldiers. 

Colum looked up at the gatehouse and laughed. There was Niall, bow and arrow in hand, letting fly at the Frankish troops. Of course! Niall, a poor victim of the Vikings, had been set free in the city…and had opened the gates to Viggo and his men.

“No time for plunder!” Viggo said to his warriors. “I will pay you what you lose in plunder today!”

The populace had fled, and the Frankish troops left alive were now running with them, when they realized that Colum was their enemy’s only goal. 

Viggo was face to face with Colum, his reddened sword by his side. Colum laughed and saluted him with his own blade, still wet with Hemming’s lifeblood.

“My lord.”

Viggo smiled. “My warrior.” 

In full view of the other Vikings, Viggo kissed Colum on the mouth, fiercely, savagely. And to Colum’s astonishment, the other warriors cheered.

“Jarl Colum! Jarl Colum!” 

Colum pulled back from Viggo’s kiss, confused. “What…”

Viggo smiled. “You are a chieftain now. You have killed the King-killer.”

“But you are the chieftain…”

“I,” Viggo said lightly, “am King Viggo, of the Saxons, remember? Admittedly,” he said, the irony not lost on him, “my kingdom is in the hands of another right now.”

He laid a hand on Colum’s battered shoulder, and the warmth of it was like balm. “Nevertheless, I am a King. Charlemagne is old. His empire will not outlast him. And when he dies, I will reclaim my throne. 

“And kings need earls, jarls, to stand by them. Men whom other men will follow to the gates of Hell. You are such a man, now, Colum.”

The men behind him beat their swords on their shields in assent.

Colum was dizzy, with exhaustion, with exhilaration. From slave, to chieftain, he had risen – only among these men, in their world, could this have happened.

Colum went to one knee, and looked up at his master, his lover, his King, with undimmed adoration. “I swear my fealty to you, King Viggo, now and forever.”

Viggo nodded solemnly. “And I accept it, Jarl Colum. Now and forever.”


The ship was loaded, ready to depart down the river, away from Dorestad, away from the Franks. And from the Danes, too. Godfrid’s death, and then Hemming’s, had left that kingdom in chaos. 

“My obligation was to Godfrid,” Viggo said. “His sons have rejected my help. There’s nothing more for us here.”

Colum nodded. “Where will we go?”

“To the east. Then south, to Byzantium. To trade, and hire out as fighters. And, of course, to sell your manuscripts to the scholars of Baghdad.” 

Colum was stunned. His vision, his dream, came back to him.

It was cold, so cold…the snow was blue in the achingly bright moonlight, the air sparkling with the frozen spray kicked up by the horses ahead of him, landing cold and wet on his face. The river was solid now, the only risk to crossing it was that the horses would slip on the ice. Colum had directed the creation of the hipposandals, the leather horse shoes that would keep their hooves safe from the cold, and from falls on this ice. 

Viggo rode beside him and smiled. “Again your learning comes in handy,” he said, since the hipposandals were a Roman invention Colum had read about in books…so many more books to read now than he’d ever dreamed of reading, even seeing, back at Iona.

Colum smiled in turn, instinctively checking his sword as he always did now, to make sure it hadn’t frozen into the scabbard – even the wrapping of lanolin-rich wool between the hilt and scabbard would freeze in this, he thought. And while bandits were less likely in the cold dead of night, he had learned the hard way that it always paid to stay alert.

“It’s thanks to you, and your sharp dealings with that Frankish merchant, that we have that book,” he said, tipping his head back to the sled behind them, laden with the goods they were taking to the Arab world, laden with the books Colum would read at night by the firelight, his head in Viggo’s lap. How they had managed to come to this bitterly cold place first, so far East of home, so far North of their destination, was beyond him…

Colum smiled. “Brilliant. We go make a fortune, and use it to raise an army to regain your throne.”

“You’re a fast one,” Viggo smiled.

Colum looked around. The slaves were done loading for the day, and now waited on the warriors around a fire down the shore, as Colum had once done. 

“Yes, I’m fast,” he said, and suddenly he jumped Viggo, throwing him to the ground in one of the wrestling moves he’d learned long ago at Clonmacnoise.

Viggo was astonished to find his wrists pinned to the ground, Colum straddling him. “This is treason,” Viggo said, the corner of his mouth turning up. He was amused, and yet, Colum could see in his eyes, also angry – more angry at himself for letting his guard down, but still…

“Treason must be punished, my lord,” Colum whispered.

“I cannot reach my weapon,” Viggo said, as his manhood began to swell beneath Colum’s ass. 

Colum’s eyelids fluttered with sweet expectation. That was all Viggo needed, a moment of distraction. He torqued his hips sideways, lifting Colum up and using his captor’s weight to throw him. Now Colum was pinned, Viggo’s hands like shackles around his wrists, his feet thrown over Viggo’s shoulders.

“A bad move, my lord,” Colum noted. “I could squeeze your neck between my legs, cut off the air supply.”

Like a viper, Viggo struck, one hand flying from Colum’s wrist to his throat. “And I could squeeze the life out of you first.”

Viggo’s hand on his throat was like iron, rough and hard, but iron fresh from the forge, hot and vital.

Colum used his now free hand to reach for Viggo’s cock, stroking it through his master’s breeches. “You have me at a disadvantage,” he managed to say despite Viggo’s firm grasp, “with your extra limb.”

“Yes,” Viggo nodded. He let go of Colum and, with brutal impatience, yanked open the slit in the back of Colum’s pants, tearing off the buttons, opening the way for his cock.

Then, instead of opening his own breeches, Viggo slapped Colum, hard. And slapped him again, even harder, for good measure. 

“How dare you defy me,” he said, and Colum shivered, pain radiating from his cheek. It was a game, and yet, it wasn’t. The anger in Viggo’s face was real. There was only so far Colum could go, and by dominating his master, even for a moment, he thought with real fear that this time, he’d gone too far.

“You are still mine.” Viggo’s eyes drilled Colum’s. “You will never, ever do that again, do you understand?”

Colum nodded. “Yes, my lord. I’m sorry, my lord.” He thought he’d cry, he was so upset. He’d made a terrible mistake! Viggo wasn’t Niall, a playmate to be wrestled with. He was a King, and Kings are not mocked. 

And it struck Colum that there would be something worse than death as his punishment – that Viggo might cast him aside, reject him, for his insubordination.

Viggo softened at the look of impending grief on Colum’s face. “I forgive you.” They were both aware of the intense pressure between them, a pressure localized in Viggo’s throbbing erection. The clash had excited both men, inflamed them. Colum’s ass was aching for Viggo now, expectant, eager…

“All the same,” Viggo growled, “you are a chieftain. And Kings must keep chieftains happy with…gifts.” His cock slipped through the opening in Colum’s trousers, and began to press against his asshole. 

Viggo pulled it out, never breaking eye contact with Colum as he spit in his hand, then held it out for Colum to spit, too. Colum gave him as much as he could, knowing it was the only lubrication he’d get.

Viggo stroked his erection several times, just enough to coat it, and then renewed his assault.

Colum opened for him. He knew some pain was coming – and that was his gift to Viggo, who, just as Colum knew he would, grew even more excited at the flinch on Colum’s face, the gritted teeth, as Viggo entered him, insistent, an enemy at the gates whose battering ram could not be resisted. Pain would be his punishment for his transgression.

“I will give you a GIFT!” Viggo said, thrusting hard.

Colum shouted now, the searing agony too intense to hold back. 

“I will bind you to me,” he hissed, pounding Colum’s ass harder. He punched Colum with it, down to the root, then squeezed his abdomen tight to flex his hips up, pushing, pushing even deeper. 

Colum groaned, the pressure insane, intense. 

“Here is my gift to you,” Viggo panted, working harder, faster, coming closer. “A river of silver, a never ending river of…ah fuck!” Viggo exploded inside him, pumping furiously.

“Yes, yes!” Colum shouted. “Never let it end!”

Viggo was nearly spent, but he didn’t stop. He stabbed Colum again and again, for good measure, his anger still unsated. 

Colum wanted to burst, his own seed just trickling from the head of his own manhood. But there would be no satisfaction for him today, he had not earned it – instead he’d earned this, oh gods, this sweet, sweet discipline.

“My punishment,” Colum muttered, “my punishment…”

“Enough out of you,” Viggo snarled, covering Colum’s mouth and nose with his hand, smothering him. Then Viggo’s thrusts picked up speed, his excitement building, and both men shared a look of astonishment as he came again, so soon, so hard. 

Colum was dizzy, seeing red, desperate for air…and then it happened – his own aching cock began to dance, to pulse and twitch wildly as he experienced the most intense orgasm he’d ever had, Viggo’s thrusts like a firm hand rubbing his organ from the inside... 

Viggo let him breathe then, and Colum gasped, the sudden rush of air enhancing the ecstasy of the wave he was riding, renewing the force of his orgasm. 

When he was spent, Viggo heaved a sigh and rolled off Colum, both men panting for breath, laying side by side.

Viggo took a swig from a skinful of wine and handed it to Colum. “You know,” he said. “It’s a dangerous path for you, to be my lover. If you defy me, I will have to punish you. Seriously punish you.”

“I know, my lord, and I am sorry.”

Viggo raised a hand, cut him off. “But. If you bore me in bed, we will no longer be lovers.”

Colum’s heart soared. Lovers! Viggo had never, ever used such a word. And he knew his lord, his love, so well – he would never use a word like that lightly.

“So,” Viggo smiled, “I look forward to seeing how that great brain of yours manages that.”

“Well, then I have nothing to worry about, my lord. In fact, I just discovered this very interesting illustrated Arab manuscript. Let me show you something I saw in there…”


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