The wind was a blessing and a curse, Colum thought. When there was no wind, he and Niall were slaves to the oars, their shoulders and backs nearly torn apart by the effort of resisting the ocean’s power. Their Viking masters laughed at them, mocked their exhaustion, and beat their already aching backs when their strokes flagged. They were the only two slaves; so the Vikings also stroked the oars, and every lapse by their captives was more work for them.
But when there was a wind, as there was now, he and Niall were put on another duty. The sea spray pelted Colum’s naked body and soaked the ropes that kept his hands bound around the forward prow of the ship, the great wooden dragon’s head that struck fear in the hearts of men. The wind that thrust the ship forward chilled the already-frigid beads of sea spray on his back, his ass, his head. His monk’s tonsure was gone now, his hair cropped nearly to the skull, marking him as a thrall, and the sun burned his scalp. He shivered with the cold, but also, in some deeper part of himself, with excitement. He knew what was coming next, knew that the cold was prelude to an incredible warmth within.
He could hear the grunts and cries from behind him. A Viking ship has two prows, so it could be easily beached and just as easily relaunched. His friend and fellow former monk Niall was bound to the opposite one, and Einar, his owner, pumped away furiously, battering Niall’s ass with his massive cock. Colum would soon be crying out himself…
“Won’t you give us a go,” one of the men said to Viggo, leering at Colum. “Look at him wiggling that rump! The monk is praying for a real man to have a chance at him!”
“He will pray in vain if I don’t do the job,” Viggo returned the jibe, both men smiling, the easy banter of warriors who were coming home from a successful raid, their pockets loaded with gold and silver. Viggo was the owner of the ship, the leader of the expedition, but the northmen were not much for masters, and it was not by force that he governed them.
“Ah, what do I care,” the man laughed. “Soon we’ll be in Birka and I’ll hire half a dozen wenches with the proper holes.”
Viggo’s booted feet parted Colum’s bare feet, spreading his legs. He heard Viggo’s breeches drop, the silver belt buckle clattering on the deck. “Any port in a storm, I say,” Viggo answered, and the whole ship’s crew roared with laughter.
The Vikings had their way with Colum and Niall in front of each other as easily as they would share a meal. Niall’s master Einar had been more generous with his property, allowing man after man to spill his seed in Niall’s ass. Colum had watched them, one after another, get up and drop their pants as if going to relieve themselves, stuffing their hard members into Niall’s ready receptacle. And Niall had loved it…reveled in it, his cries of pain and of ecstasy intermingling.
But Viggo had not shared Colum. He had tied him to the prow more than once on this journey, the journey from Iona to…where? Somewhere they would melt down the treasure they had captured from the monastery, sell off the gems with which the crosses and goblets had been encrusted. He had tied him to the dragon and penetrated him with nothing but spit and sea water for lubrication. The salty water that ran off his back down his ass crack stung his insides as it was pumped up into him by the hammer of Viggo’s cock – Thor’s hammer, Colum thought absurdly, remembering the pagan fables, thrown and returned to his hand again and again.
Viggo had been merciful in not sharing him…but that was all. He took Colum now as he had before, hard and fast, his hands grasping the dragon’s neck to steady himself, only his cock and hips touching Colum’s body. Colum thought back to the beach, where he had lain himself out willingly on his monk’s robe – long gone now, washed away by the tide along with his previous life. There Viggo had pressed his weight on to him, into him, his arms wrapped around Colum’s chest. There he had broken his ass open as he did now, but there he had nuzzled Colum’s neck, bit it like an animal would its mate.
But not today. In front of the other men, he was a war machine, and Colum’s ass was nothing more than a fortification to be destroyed. Viggo’s massive cock punched his insides, that strange place inside his guts lighting up with pain and pleasure as Viggo hit it. The root of his fruit and branches, he thought, surely, how else could it make his own cock so hard to have it watered with Viggo’s juices?
Each time a wave raised the prow of the ship, it raised Colum up with it. Then the downward motion pushed him towards the horizontal, and Viggo’s weight came forward with him, onto him, into him, allowing him to thrust deeper. Einar heard Colum’s whimpers and looked over his shoulder. Then he laughed and mirrored the action on the other end of the ship, so that each of the two prisoners cried out in alternating bursts, causing laughter among the other men. It was a game now, Viggo and Einar making music on their drums.
Finally Viggo put his hands on Colum’s hips, to steady himself for the great eruption. The feeling of his big strong hands, wrapping halfway around Colum’s trim waist, was too much. “Oh, God!” he cried out, his own seed spilling out of him as Viggo hissed, groaned, and spent inside him.
“Land,” a man shouted, and Viggo pulled out of Colum, still hard, the last of his cum dripping onto Colum’s ass cheeks.
“Head for the stakes,” Viggo said, pulling his breeches up. His knife sawed at the ropes holding Colum to the prow, freeing him. “Sail down. Oars in.”
Back on his oar, Colum looked ahead at the coastline. The town looked more like a fortress, Colum thought, with walls and men on the ramparts, and a wooden castle on the highest hill.
A series of stakes, tree trunks really, forced the ship into a narrow channel. Colum wondered if it was to protect ships from running aground. Then, as the ship passed into a narrow inlet, and he saw the fortifications on either side, he realized that they were there to make sure that any visitor, or invader, had to thread the eye of the needle.
He was shocked at the sight of the town. It was the largest he’d seen, dwarfing even the busy market town around Clonmacnoise, the monastery where he’d lived for so long, so happily, before being unwillingly sent to Iona. The docks were bustling, crowded with ships – not just Viking raider ships, but other craft, strange and unfamiliar to him, from far-flung lands.
He and Niall were taken off the oars now – bringing the ship into dock was a job for more seasoned hands. They stood at the back of the ship, out of the way.
“What is this place?” Niall asked him. “What country is this?”
“Birka, that was the name they used. We’re somewhere in the Vikings’ lands. They don’t have countries, or kings.”
“But…I thought they were…” He whispered, even though only Viggo spoke their tongue and he was occupied at the front of the ship. “Pirates. This is…civilization!”
“Even pirates have to sell their wares somewhere, don’t they? Where did you think they went when they were done raiding?”
“Back to Hell, was what they always told us at Iona.”
Colum smiled. “Does this look like Hell?”
Then there was no time for conversation. The ship docked and they were put to work unloading the loot. When one of the boxes spilled open, Colum couldn’t help but gasp at its contents. The head of a bishop’s crozier, solid gold and studded with gems, glinted in the sun. It was worth enough in itself to build Iona all over again.
A hand cuffed him on the back of the head. Viggo, Colum realized when he heard his voice.
“If you let that fall in the sea, you’re going in after it.”
“Sorry, lord,” Colum said, hastily closing the lid and putting the box on his shoulder. Viggo had been so cold, so cruel, since that moment on the beach. Was that his real self Colum had seen, or was this? Was this to be his fate, to be beaten and savaged and used, and nothing more?
When they were done loading the hired wagons, they walked behind them through the town. Niall’s eyes were agog; unlike Colum he had never even seen a real town before, never mind one like this. The smell of meat and root vegetables roasting was overwhelming. Colum was starving; they had eaten as well on the ship as the Vikings had, but rowing was hungry work. The town was nothing but a market, he thought, his eyes trying to absorb everything he saw. Vendors of ornate decorative silver clasps and buckles, soapstone figures, pottery, bolts of cloth, combs of bone and stone and silver and still more combs…and past that, the blacksmiths and glassmakers and tanners, their flames and stenches sensibly far away from the rest of the commerce.
And beyond that, were a series of large halls, the great Viking halls of which Colum had read. They halted at one of them. Colum and Niall started to unload the wagon, but Viggo stopped them.
Colum’s eyes had to adjust to the dark, windowless building. Torches and fireplaces provided light and heat, and they were quickly set to maintaining both, and to serving the food. Colum’s stomach rumbled, the torture of having a great platter of roast chicken in his hand and being unable to eat it far worse at this moment than anything Viggo had done to him.
On and on their serving duties went. Flagons of ale had to be filled again and again. Platters were stripped of food as quickly as he could bring it. It was like that Greek legend he recalled, of the man forever rolling a boulder uphill, never making it to the top. Finally he stumbled, weak with hunger.
Viggo saw from his place at the table. “You two. Go and help in the kitchen.” Colum and Niall handed off their burdens to other slaves and staggered outside.
The kitchen was a bustling outbuilding behind the hall, where stocky women sweated over ovens and kettles and pits. The biggest one, called Gunna by the others, took one look at them and said, “Well, you’d better eat something.”
The two ex-monks squatted in a corner and glutted themselves on bread and cheese and fowl. The ale was strong, much stronger than Colum was used to, and he regretted guzzling it so greedily. His head was already spinning from the shock of it all and this didn’t help.
“Go on, then,” Gunna said to them, waving them out the door. “There’ll be enough for you to do soon enough. Go and get a rest.”
Colum and Niall found their way to the seashore, looking at the ocean road by which they’d come here. Niall leaned up against a boulder and fell asleep, but Colum couldn’t sleep, his mind too restless. It was hitting him now, the sorrow. The other monks were dead…all of them. Some had been his friends, some his enemies, some he’d like and some he’d loathed. But they didn’t deserve to die.
“Why did they have to kill them all?” he asked the ocean.
“It wasn’t the plan,” Viggo said from behind him. He jumped up but Viggo waved him back down to the ground, sat beside him and looked out to sea. “We were there for the loot, that’s all.”
“The great ugly fat one, he was ready to go into slavery. Not that we would have taken him. Too big a mouth to feed for the little labor we’d get. But the rest would have done. Or most of them, anyway.”
Fedelmid, Colum thought, his perverted torturer, who had reveled in flogging Colum for his many offenses against the monastery’s rules. Of course he’d do anything to survive.
“But the abbot, he declared that they would rather die and go to Heaven than become slaves to pagans.”
“And what did you say?”
Viggo shrugged. “I would have said nothing. But the others demanded to know what he said. So…I translated.”
“And that was that.”
Viggo nodded. “Yes.”
Colum was relieved, and ashamed of being relieved. Relieved that it hadn’t been Viggo’s fault, ashamed that he was concerned about Viggo’s guilt in the matter. And an even greater guilt took him then, that he couldn’t repress his other concern.
“Are…are you going to sell the manuscripts?”
Viggo chuckled. “Did you see any dealers of books in town?”
“No…but I saw Arab coins. Arab script on some of the pottery.”
Viggo looked Colum in the eyes, appraising him anew. “For a cloistered monk, you know a lot about the outside world.”
“I was at Clonmacnoise for many years before Iona. The abbey was near a large market town. I know the Arab silver coins are prized because of their quality. And Arabs buy books. We were always being frightened with the specter of our manuscripts ‘falling into infidel hands.’”
Viggo laughed, his blue eyes sparkling. “Where they would be safer than in barbarian hands.”
“Are they safe in yours?” Colum asked, daring to look Viggo in the eyes, daring the punishment. But when nobody else was around, it was different, he realized. It would be a double life with his new master, friendly and perhaps even affectionate in private…but in public he would be beaten, cuffed and spat on, a slave unworthy of human kindness.
“I won’t tell you I don’t intend to sell most of them. And I want you to tell me – honestly – which ones are worth anything. I know…something about these things. But not as much as you. I will give you pen and paper, so you can copy them out. Not like you have done, all ornamented and such. Copied quickly, as you would a letter.”
Colum thought of all the Latin books he had memorized, knowing the pages would be destroyed by the Church, burnt as heresy or the paper stripped and reused for the accounting of saintly miracles. He had never dreamed that it would be barbarians and not Christians who would be the greatest jeopardy to the classical works lodged at Iona. Now he could recreate them, return their wisdom to the page, knowing they would go somewhere they would survive, safe from willful destruction at least. Viggo had no idea what he’d been up to, if he thought Colum had done nothing but labor over illuminated gospels.
He dared to ask. “Why? Of what financial value are the words themselves, without the decoration, the ornamentation?”
Viggo smiled. “Because it pleases me. You need no more reason than that.” He got up. “Come, it’s time to go to town and sell our loot.”
Colum got up and followed him. Viggo turned around quickly, and Colum nearly ran into him. The look on Viggo’s face was stern.
“And Colum,” Viggo said, addressing him by name for the first time. “It would be best if you learned to call me ‘my lord’ at all times. So you get, and stay, in the habit.”
Colum nodded, abashed, realizing he’d completely forgotten to do that in their conversation. “Yes, my lord.”
He is my lord and master, Colum thought. He had always had someone to answer to, someone to call “your Grace” or “your Eminence” or “my lord.” How many times those words had been ashes in his mouth, having to say them to some fat, greasy, spittle-flecked toad! But Viggo…it felt right to call him a lord, a master. It felt…good. Warm. Safe.