chapter twenty-three ; bite the hand that beat you

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The word hung limply in the air, not having any impact on the sleeping Viking in the cell. She hung limply, black hair pooling around her head to conceal her face, dreaming of things that a Parisian could never understand.

"Golden, you must wake."

Skadi's eyes began to flutter open, but she refused to give any indication that she had heard the request. She knew exactly who stood outside the entrance to her cell; the whiny, frivolous Catholic princess did not visit often, but when she did, she only ever brought trouble.

It had been two months since Skadi had seen Bjorn at the wall. Last she heard, the Vikings had been paid off to leave, and yet they still sat at the far bank of the river. Her son had grown even larger these two months, and now knew a multitude of words in Frankish, although his Norse was improving as well, as he could now say things like mother and father and bread and milk.

A pebble pinged off of her head. Skadi blinked, shaking her hair out of her face and slowly looking up at the smug princess.

In the time that Skadi Serpent-Caller had known Princess Gisla of the West Franks, she had never had a single pleasant interaction with the girl. Gisla treated Skadi like some sort of exotic pet, the same way in which one would treat a domesticated tiger. She flaunted Skadi around court, and took great pleasure in dressing her up like a little doll.

"Rise and shine, Golden dear," A smirk was painted on the princess' face as the guards began to unlock Skadi's cell. "You have a funeral to prepare for."

Skadi blinked.

"A funeral?" She asked in Frankish, still blinking the sleep from her eyes. She tried to remember if anyone at court had died recently. "For whom?"

"Oh, you didn't hear?" Gisla turned and began to walk, leading the guards as Skadi was dragged along behind her. "Your Pagan King has died and requested a proper Christian burial."

"My..." Skadi swallowed thickly, trying to process what the Frankish girl was saying. "No, no. That's not possible."

"It's true, my beloved Golden. King Ragnar Lothbrok of the Pagans has died and requested to be buried in the house of God."

Skadi remained silent. Her heart climbed into her throat, tears welling in her eyes; the Princess had no reason to lie about this.

The guards dragged her up the stairs to the Princess' chambers. There, a group of handmaidens got to work on Skadi. They scrubbed the layers of dirt and grime from her body and stripped her hair of all the gross buildup of sweat and oils. They waxed her of most of her body hair, including the bush that grew between her legs, and cleaned out the grime from underneath her fingernails. As they hauled her out of the bath, Skadi felt like a piece of raw meat.

One handmaiden got to work on drying and braiding Skadi's long hair, while another took to dousing her in a foul, much too strong rose scent. A third scrubbed away at the callouses on her feet. Finally, they dressed her in black trousers and a frilled white top that left her midsection and shoulders exposed. Not at the level of the Princess, but no longer quite so slavelike.

The door opened and Gisla strode in, dressed in a lavender gown. Her eyes raked Skadi up and down, taking in the tattooed Viking woman.

"Well," Gisla mused, circling her like a lion circling prey as the handmaidens fled the room. "You clean up rather nice."

"Anything her majesty wants." Skadi's voice was ice. Gisla's smile dropped.


Two guards entered the room, snapping a pair of handcuffs onto Skadi's waiting wrists and ankles. Then, leading her like a dog, Gisla took the chain attached to Skadi's handcuffs and pulled her out of the room.

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