“Thought you said he be more alive than dead.” Farulf pointed to the man wrapped up in blankets shaking with fever inside the tent.
“He is. Nearly taken by the river. Give it time.” Ellisif rolled her eyes at her father and then walked over to the trade bundles. She pulled out a pair of trews, an under tunic, wool socks, an over tunic and a belt. She sat the clothing next to the man and tried to eye him up for fit.
“Gundar, be he as big as Kafi or Hafr?” she asked.
She nodded and traded the tunic out for a different one. Then she went back to cooking. When the food was ready and everyone else had eaten, she took a bowl to the tent. She sat next to Lothar and nudged him.
“Wake up. I’ve food for you.” She shook him a little, and noticed that while he smelled of the river, he didn’t smell sick. He’d also stopped shivering. His forehead was warm, but not feverish. “Wake up!”
Lothar thought he heard a dog barking far off in the distance. He was trying to figure out where, when he felt someone grab his arm. He flinched and tried to sit up. He fought the blanket and then realized that the woman Ellisif was talking to him.
“Here. Eat.” She held a bowl out to him. Her words were beginning to make more sense.
Lothar took the bowl and the spoon. The first bite was hot, but good. He didn’t mind that he burned his mouth. He finished the food and handed the bowl back to her. She took it and then handed him a pile of clothes. He realized that she wanted him to change out of his clothing. It was still damp. He made motions for her to get out of the tent so that he could change. She laughed, took the bowl and tousled his hair as she left the tent.
“He eat?” asked Bjorn.
“Yes. Body shy. Wouldn’t change clothes with me there.
“I wouldn’t change clothes with you in the tent either,” said Brynki.
“You are afraid of my fader.” She smiled.
Brynki nodded. That made the rest of the men laugh. Most of them thought of Ellisif as a sister, but Brynki had a crush on her for a little while until he angered Farulf. Ever since then, he walked around Ellisif as if on eggshells.
“Here he comes. Not bad looking when you ignore the bruises,” said Snorri.
“Oh! Forgot. Need to bandage his ribs.” Ellisif stood up and went to her tent to grab a basket. She came back and went over to Lothar who was standing next to the fire warming himself. He was startled when she tugged at his tunic.
“No! I am dressed.”
Ellisif looked at him. She didn’t waste time talking. Instead, she poked his ribs. When he gasped, she pulled the tunic up. Inspecting his ribs, she rubbed a salve that smelled of honey on his ribs and then wrapped them with a length of cloth. She tied it in place and then adjusted his tunic.
“Thank you,” Lothar gasped. He hoped he’d said it right.
When it came time to sleep, Lothar found himself in amongst eight of the crew. Farulf, his daughter and a couple of men slept in the other tent. He’d found himself watching her as she moved around the camp. No one seemed to be her husband. Or at least not by any sign he could tell. While she’d startled him, the salve she’d put on his ribs and later on his face helped the pain. He lay down to sleep on his uninjured side and hoped that no one would thump him in the night. He still didn’t know if he was a prisoner or not.
By the time they reached Kœnugarðr, his ribs were healed enough to take off the bandages. Lothar was learning the language and understood when Gundar or Snorri were making fun of him. As they camped outside the city, Farulf came up to him and sat down. Dinner was over and men were heading off to bed.
“Why in the river?”
“Fought a man. Lost.” Lothar felt awkward trying to communicate with the older man.
“Why? You steal? You take his woman?” Farulf was direct and to the point. If this man was a danger, he wanted him off the boat. So far none of his friends or traders had heard of Lothar.
“No. He steal. My money. My honor. Must fight. He knocked me into the river and… I think I die.” Lothar remembered the fight. The man had taken his purse and tried to take his armor. When Lothar confronted him, the man swung and after connecting with Lothar’s jaw, he shoved Lothar into the river. The flotsam and jetsam did the rest of the damage.
Farulf looked at the man. He seemed honest. Didn’t flinch when he looked him in the eyes. Plus, Ellisif seemed to like him. “Fine. You row, Ulf’s place.” He stood up, clapped Lothar on the shoulder and then walked off.
Lothar sat there a bit stunned, trying to figure it all out. Gundar came over and handed him a rib bone with meat on it. Lothar took it.
“Farulf good man. Let you row with us. Make money trading eh?” Gundar chattered as they ate.
Lothar understood about every third word, but finally realized he’d been hired to help row the boat down the river. Hopefully it would earn him enough money to replace his armor and sword. He felt a bit naked without it. Ragnar had given him a dagger, but it was little more than an eating tool.
Lothar headed over to the tents to go to sleep when he thought he saw something. Looking around, he realized it was Ellisif coming back from bathing. She was barely wrapped in her cloak. “Oh! Sorry,” he said and turned to go back. His face felt red and hot. His body was faster reacting than his brain. It wouldn’t do for the newest member of the Dragon boat to be lusting after the Drottin’s daughter.
Ellisif laughed softly and headed for her own tent. She had been waiting for Lothar to walk by. She was curious about him and wondered if he’d really noticed her. The way he reacted made her smile. He might be worth bedding.