Something was amiss. Aelswyn could feel it even before reaching her chambers. Her door was ajar and she could hear muffled cries coming from inside. Edith! She increased her pace and rushed forward. She froze on the doorstep, in shock. Her room had been ransacked. Her clothes lay on the floor in a heap, the chest that contained them wide opened, while her jewels were spread on her desk, the lock on their wooden box broken. Her precious rolls and books were no more on the shelves but thrown carelessly around, and her needlework basket was upside down. Her bed hadn’t been spared, the mattress hanging sideways, sheets and covers falling from it. She cautiously walked around it to find Edith curled in a ball, sobbing softly. She kneeled at her side, hugging her.
“Edith, listen to me. You are safe now. Please, tell me what happened. Did they do anything to you?”
It took several attempts for the girl to control her voice enough to speak.
“They came in, two Vikings, they were looking for something. They went through everything in the room, and then, then” she paused, too shaken to go on, before whispering, “They decided to search me. One was holding me, and the other, he was putting his hands everywhere, and then he lifted my dress…”
She was shaking, her tears flowing again.
“Edith, did they…rape you?”
“No my Lady, it was just his hands” she said, shivering at the memory. “They were laughing, I was so afraid!”
Aelswyn paled. Ever since self-control had been beaten into her during her rebellious childhood, she rarely lost her temper. But this was one step too far. She had been on an emotional rush all night, she was lacking sleep, and now her servant had been assaulted in her own private chambers.
She turned to Edwina, her eyes throwing daggers.
“Is it how your Master intends to keep me safe? By having his men destroy what is mine and attack my servants? Edith is a free woman, her honor has a price. Tell him I want it paid to her, or he can call the marriage off. And I will die before he beds me.”
Edwina translated for Olaf, waiting for his answer. Judging by his annoyed face, he didn’t seem to know anything more than her.
Edwina confirmed it.
“I am sorry my Lady, there must be some kind of misunderstanding. Surely my Lord never ordered for this to happen.”
They were interrupted by a knock on the door.
Edwina let in an old woman in her forties, who bowed to Aelswyn. Her long grayish hair was falling to her waist in two braids, over her yellow ankle length woolen dress. On top of it was a green apron dress, held by two turtle-shell brooches. She looked clean enough for a Norse woman.
“This is Groa, our wit…healer, my Lady, she was sent to examine you.”
“Tell her she can go away, I’m perfectly well.”
Edwina blushed, embarrassed.
“No my Lady, she is to examine you…intimately, before the contract is signed.”
Aelswyn was outraged. She was being treated like a broodmare.
“I never agreed to that. Now go to your Master, before I say something I might not regret. Repeat my words exactly. I will be waiting here”, she added ironically.
Edwina spoke in Norse, then bowed and left.
Aelswyn turned and started sorting out her belongings. She might as well do something useful while waiting.
She was finishing arranging the bed when the servant returned.
Aelswyn gazed at her questioningly.
“My Lord agreed to pay for your servant’s price on behalf of his men, but only if you allow Groa to do her work. Otherwise he will come and hold you down himself. He sent these men to retrieve any object you could have used to harm yourself. He didn’t know that your servant would be there, and will punish them for destroying your belongings.” She hesitated: “I’d rather not repeat what he said about the bed part, if you don’t mind my Lady.”
Aelswyn flushed bright red and grinded her teeth. It was the third time she was tricked and humiliated tonight; at least she could see that Edith got some benefit from this one.
“Great! What shall I do then?”
“Just lie down on the bed, Groa will take care of it.”
Aelswyn moved her chin towards Olaf:
“Does he get to watch?”
“Of course not, my Lady, he will wait outside. My Lord is sending another guard to replace him, but he won’t be allowed in. Edith will remain with you.”
She talked to Olaf, who left the room.
Aelswyn walked slowly to the bed and lay down. She clenched her fists. She was not looking forward to that.