Einarr came to visit me the next morning. He was limping slightly, from a cut to the outside of his thigh. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest in relief. He was alive.
It was noon when he arrived, and I was still asleep. The bearn had been crying his hunger every second hour, exhausting me. Soon after the birth, I had been washed again and my son left to sleep beside me. In the morn, Svana had taken him away, to my utter relief. I was so tired that I feared I would crush him in my slumber.
A kiss on my forehead woke me. I held out my hands like a well-trained dog, only noticing Einarr when no red and screaming little boy was placed in them. Feeling silly, I wrapped my arms around my husband’s neck. “I’m so happy to see you well. I was worried…”
“I can say the same to you, my sweet wife. I am so sorry I couldn’t be there to support you as I should, but as I predicted, you gave me a strong son. The color of his hair concerns me though; he might have inherited his mother’s temper…” I pulled sharply onto his locks and he winked. “That’s exactly what I was talking about.”
He gave me a little peck and went on: “How are you feeling, little dreki? According to Svana’s mother, it was fast and easy, as your labor was early. She would have feared for your life, had you been at full term. My heir,” he gloated, “is tall and his shoulders are broad. He will make a fine warrior.”
I had to smile at his fatherly pride. “If that was easy, I hope none of our future children will bide their time; I doubt I would survive it.” I shivered at the memory of the pain. My whole body felt raw and fragile. “I take it that you were victorious? Was there any damage to our home?”
He shook his head. “Very little. I believe Sigurd placed his most seasoned warriors on the road. The dozen he sent to the house had hoped to storm the place by surprise, and didn’t expect much resistance. They were not very skilled; three of them were badly wounded by the time we arrived and the others were held at bay.”
I frowned. The defence of the house had been left in the hands of five soldiers, a number of servants and thralls, half of them female, and Lady Disaelfr, a woman of at least five decades. “How? We were outnumbered…”
The corner of Einarr’s mouth twitched. “My mother had carts, barrels and bales of hay spread between the enclosure wall and the sea to block access from the road, and servants with slings positioned on the roofs. She posted our best men at the weak points, gave spears to the others and stones to women and children, and it was enough keep their assailants at bay.”
“Really?” I was unconvinced. Lady Disaelfr had seemed so upset that I struggled to believe she had devised such a cunning strategy.
“My mother was a shieldmaiden in her youth, Sunngifu. She has fought many a battle, and my father had to court her for months before she consented to marry him. She had to sheath her sword as it is against the law for women to bear arms here, but she can still protect her people when needed.”
My eyes widened. I had thought shieldmaiden legendary. The idea of a woman wielding a sword was foreign to us Saxons, although scop’s songs mentioned them. “How is that possible? I was told she was of noble blood?”
“She is, yet she chose the path of the warrior. She travelled to the land of the Rus and fought for them. My father met her when she was visiting her family in Norway. He wasn’t young but he managed to win her heart…”
He was rudely interrupted by our son’s loud wail. He picked him up and cooed at him, beaming when the little one answered with a half-smile. “I rescind my earlier words. He has his father’s good nature.”