Twin Passions
pulled Anora up beside her.
    For a moment the pounding pain in her head drowned out
all else, and her knees wobbled unsteadily on the verge of collapse. Suddenly a
strong arm reached out and grabbed her by the shoulder, steadying her. She looked
up, her emerald eyes meeting the Viking's blue gaze as he held her against him
until she regained her balance.
    "There, now, lad, you will get your sea legs in a
moment," Hakon assured her, reaching out to steady Anora as well. Cringing
at his touch, she jerked away from him and fell heavily against a wooden cask.
Hakon shook his head. He could see that the wench was as frightened as a
skittish doe. Before she could dodge him again, he picked her up in his arms,
then carried her struggling and kicking to the open hatch. "Take the
wench, Egil, but watch your eyes!" he shouted. "She might be in the
mood to scratch them out!"
    With a small heave Hakon tossed Anora gently into Egil's
waiting arms. Then he turned back to Gwendolyn.
    "Now it is your turn, lad. You may have your
choice. Climb out like a man, or I will have to toss you out as well."
    "I would prefer to climb out, my lord,"
Gwendolyn answered with no hesitation, trying to keep her womanish voice low, "but
my wrists are bound." Trying not to let him see her face too closely in
the light from the open hatch, she kept her head down.
    Hakon started in surprise at the lilting quality of her
voice. The lad looks to be sixteen
winters, but perhaps he is even younger, he thought. He pulled his
long-bladed knife from his belt. With one quick movement he cut the leather
thong binding Gwendolyn's wrists. "There, now, off with you," he
commanded gruffly.
    Gwendolyn stepped on one of the casks near the open
hatch and pulled herself up and out of the cargo well, followed shortly by the
Viking. The daylight, although beginning to fade into dusk, was still intensely
bright compared to the pitch-darkness of the well. Blinded temporarily, she
opened her eyes slowly to adjust to the change. Suddenly she spied Anora sitting
forlornly on the deck, her pale cheeks dirty and stained with tears. She rushed
over to her sister's side and sat down beside her.
    "I am here now, Anora," Gwendolyn whispered
reassuringly, throwing her arm protectively around her sister's delicate shoulders.
Her eyes, now accustomed to the light, were wide-eyed as she looked about the
Viking ship. It was just as her father had told her in his stories, she thought
in awe, remembering his vivid description of a fleet of Viking vessels he had
seen in the London harbor while a young man in the king's army.
    She was amazed at the swiftness of the ship as it cut
through the ocean swells. The large, rectangular sail, white with bold red
stripes, was stretched taut by the stiff wind. A gilded bronze vane, etched with
strange designs and hung with metal pendants that rattled and jangled in the
breeze, was fitted to the masthead. And at its top, a proud, gilded beast was
mounted, as if to keep watch over the horizon.
    Letting her eyes roam, she looked toward the bow. Suddenly
she gasped, her breath caught in her throat. A fierce dragon head, carved into
the strongly curved prow, leered back at her with its sharp, grinning teeth. A
flash of memory coursed through her mind—a bright bolt of lightning, crashing
thunder, her mare rearing and pawing the air, then a demon rising from the
rushing water —and with the memory came the cold shock of realization.
    Her nightmare vision during the storm two nights ago
had not been an evil apparition from the depths of hell, but the carved prow of
the Viking ship!
    "God help us! I could have prevented this,"
she murmured numbly, her mind racing. If only she had tried to think of an
explanation for her vision that night, or had at least told one of her father's
thanes about it . . . perhaps one of them might have recognized her vision for
what it was and could have been alerted to the Viking threat. Then, none of
this would have happened . .

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