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A Fate Inked in Blood: Chapter 36

My bed was moving beneath me, rising and falling as though I’d had too much to drink, the sensation sending a wave of nausea through me. “Bjorn,” I mumbled, trying to reach out to him.

Except I couldn’t move my arms, rough rope binding my wrists together.

My eyes snapped open and daylight stabbed into them like daggers. At first, all I could see was white, but as I wildly blinked, my vision cleared to reveal the hull of a drakkar, booted legs all around me. Memory flooded my mind, of Harald and his men arriving at the cavern. Of the truth of Bjorn’s allegiances being revealed. Of corpses on the ground all around me, dead by my curse.

Of Steinunn, blowing smoke into my face as she revealed her true allegiance.

“Good to see you’re finally awake, Freya.” Harald’s voice filled my ears, and I rolled over, looking up to meet his pale gray gaze. “Where am I?”

“On a drakkar,” he answered with a faint smile, mocking me with the obvious. Then he lifted one shoulder. “We are in the strait on our way back to Nordeland.”

“Let me go,” I snarled, struggling to sit up. But my head still spun from the motion of the drakkar and the effects of whatever Steinunn had drugged me with. The skald herself sat at the far end of the boat, cloak wrapped tightly around her, eyes fixed on the sea.

“I think we both know that freeing you is not possible,” Harald answered. “You’d only allow your anger at Bjorn to send you running back to Snorri armed with your newly discovered magic, and he, in turn, would use you against me, whether you willed it or no. He’s already proven exceptionally capable of forcing your hand.”

“I don’t need Snorri to curse you,” I hissed. “I need only my own tongue.”

Harald eyed me for a long moment, expression considered rather than alarmed. “True,” he finally said. “Except I don’t think that you will. I saw the look on your face when you murdered my warriors. When you cursed their souls to Helheim when their rightful end is in Valhalla. You might well put a knife between my ribs, but cursing me means embracing a side of yourself that I think…terrifies you. As it is, I’d ask you to remember that I’m the only one who has never lied to you.”

My skin crawled as if a thousand spiders danced across my flesh, his words breathing new life into the horror I’d felt over what I’d done. Not the killing, although that was bad enough, but cursing souls for eternity. Men and women who’d raised no arms against me—had only been following the orders of their king. Worst of all, it hadn’t even been them to whom my fury had been directed.

It was Bjorn.

My heart stuttered at the thought of him, and I managed to right myself, eyes skipping over the figures in the drakkar until they landed on his familiar form. He sat on one of the benches, elbows resting on his knees, shoulders slumped.

“Traitor,” I screamed, lunging. “I’m going to fucking cut out your heart!”

That my wrists were bound made no difference to me as I tried to crawl over benches to reach him. All that mattered was making him feel the same hurt as I felt. Making him understand the pain of his betrayal.

But then my body was jerked back, my chin slamming against a bench.

Spitting blood, I twisted to find Tora behind me, fingers locked on my belt. “Silence your tongue, Hel’s daughter, or I shall cut it out of your mouth.”

“Back off, Tora!” Bjorn snarled, reaching for me, only to draw up short as Skade leveled an arrow at his face.

My eyes skipped around the drakkar, which contained no warriors who were not children of the gods. The only others present were thralls working the oars.

In an instant, I understood why: Hel’s curse wouldn’t work on those with magic. The roots had attacked Tora, Skade, and Bjorn, but they’d been able to repel them with magic.

But why was Harald alive?

Digging deep into my memory, I replayed the moment, feeling the thrum of power in me again as I watched the roots explode from the ground. Yet none had gone near the king of Nordeland.

Why that was, I couldn’t begin to explain.

“Calm yourself, Bjorn,” Harald said, making pacifying gestures. “I swore to you that Freya would not be harmed. When have I ever gone back on my word to you?”

Some of the tension in Bjorn’s face eased, and I wanted to spit with fury, hating the relationship between them.

“That it’s happening this way is because of your choices,” Harald said. “She’s angry at you, which makes her a threat to Nordeland, but rather than killing her as others have suggested, I intend to give her a chance to see reason.”

“You mean, you wish to have time to convince her to fight for you.”

“Of course I wish this.” Harald shrugged. “Freya is tremendously powerful and could defend my people in a way no other living being is capable of. But I will not make her do anything she does not wish to do.” His eyes flicked to me. “On my honor, I swear it is so. In Nordeland, you will be your own woman, Freya.”

“As Bjorn was his own man?” My voice was flat. “I’ll be your prisoner, Harald, and I’m not a child to have my mind twisted until I name you Father.”

His eyes darkened, the first real display of emotion I’d seen from him, but it was gone in an instant. “Bjorn has never been a prisoner a day in his life. Ask him yourself.”

There was a part of me that wanted to ask. That wanted to give Bjorn the chance to tell me his truth. Yet every instinct within me screamed warning. This man had murdered Saga, stolen Bjorn away, and while he clearly hadn’t been treated as a prisoner or thrall during this time, what manner of poison had been poured into his ears that would cause him to believe Harald was anything other than his enemy?

Lies upon lies upon lies was what my gut told me, and what’s more, it whispered that all Harald’s platitudes about me being safe were more lies still. I’d seen the delight in his eyes when Hel’s magic revealed itself. He intended to use me, I knew it. Use me to increase his power, to expand his dominion, and innocent Skalanders would die beneath Nordelander blades.

I wouldn’t let that happen.

I would do whatever it took to keep them all safe.

Taking a deep breath, I lunged to my feet, seeing the shore in the distance as I leapt. I could make it.

Cold seawater closed over my head, fear filling my heart even as I kicked my legs, driving as far away from the drakkar as I could before surfacing. Gasping for breath, I tipped my head to check for the shore, then flipped on my back, propelling myself in that direction.

My torso sank, a wave rolling over my face, forcing me to tread water upright. Fear filled my chest, but the drakkar was dropping sail and running out the oars. If I didn’t get back to shore, they’d catch me.

Sucking in a breath, I flipped onto my back again, ignoring how the water washed over my face as I kicked toward the beach.


My legs churned, but it wasn’t long until I needed to take a breath.

I treaded water, sucking in breath after breath as I tried to work my wrists free of their bindings. My legs were already exhausted, for whatever Steinunn had drugged me with still sapped my strength.

Maybe it’s for the best, my conscience whispered to me as I slipped under the water. Maybe it’s better that no one with your powers walks the earth.

But I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live.

I broke the surface and sucked in a breath, then slipped under again. Kick, I screamed at myself. Kick harder.

Another breath, the waves seeming to sense my need, pulling me toward shore.

I would make it. I was going to make it.

Then hands closed around my waist, hauling me upward.

“Is getting away from me worth getting yourself killed?” Bjorn shouted, his hair plastered against the side of his cheek. “Is getting away from me worth crawling back to Snorri so he can use you to achieve his ends?”

“Yes,” I gasped, kicking at him, then trying to wedge my knees between us to force him away, but he only spun me in the water so that my back was to him. “You’re a fucking liar!”

“I’m sorry!” He struggled to keep us both afloat because I’d stopped kicking, intent on dragging us both under to drown if that’s what it took. “But you of all people should understand going to any length to protect family!”

“Snorri is your family,” I screamed, choking as a wave splashed me. “Leif is your family! Skaland is family! I don’t care what poison Harald whispered in your ears, he stole you from them!”

“No!” His grip tightened. “He saved me from them!”

“It’s all lies.” My eyes burned, because the drakkar was close. I’d lost my chance to escape. “He murdered your mother!”

“He didn’t!” Bjorn turned me to face him, eyes bright. “It was Snorri who tried to kill my mother. Who tried to kill both of us, because Ylva convinced him it was necessary so that Leif might inherit. But my mother escaped the fire and fled with me to Nordeland, where Harald protected us. Freya, my mother is alive!”

Shock rippled through me. “But the specter. Saga is the specter.”

“More of Snorri’s manipulation. It was my mother I spoke to in Fjalltindr, my mother whom I convinced that you could change your fate, and who subsequently convinced Harald of the same. She’s alive and well back in Nordeland.” He pulled me closer, the heat of him seeping into my body despite the chill of the sea. “Let me take you to her, Freya. Listen to what she has to say before you cast judgment. She will have the answers you seek.”

I didn’t want to go. Didn’t want to hear an explanation. Wanted to hold on to my anger and rage at what he’d done.

“Please.” He said the word between his teeth, jaw clenched. “I know I have no right to ask it from you, but please do this last thing for me. I need you to understand.”

“I’ll never understand,” I spat.

Yet neither did I struggle when hands reached down and dragged me into the ship, saying not a word as the sails were lifted, Skaland slowly disappearing in our wake. I only stared forward as the coast of Nordeland appeared, rocky and harsh and gray.

A place where I’d find answers, yes.

But also where I’d begin to control my own fate.


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