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mm enemies to lovers

Chapter #5

HE NOSED AGAINST Kristján’s neck, his tongue darting out, licking his skin, touching, tasting. A blistering white haze clouded his vision, and he could feel the slick pool in his underwear. Kristján’s cock twitched, and his hole clenched over warm air.

Fuck,” the man whispered, suctioning his mouth over his cool skin. “Nate.”

“I—I’m not—” Kristján tried to speak, but arousal made his words slip into a moan. He can’t. He doesn’t even know this man. The stranger’s tongue slid over his glands; strong heady strokes that made Kristján’s thoughts turn to syrup. He shoved the man off, scrambling to his feet.

“I’ll kill him.” The man thrashed. “I’ll fucking kill him—”

Kristján fled the room. His feet slapped against the wooden boards as he sprinted down the corridor, his heart pounding in his ears.

Gods, he was so stupid. What the hell was he thinking? Getting close to a prisoner like that? He could’ve been killed. Pain exploded in his temple like a steel rod. The world tilted dangerously, and Kristján jerked back staggering, clutching the side of his face where it throbbed. Narfi stood like a statue in front of him, eyes fierce. “Where the fuck are you going?”

Kristján’s hand came away bloodied. Iron flooded his mouth, and it took him a moment to realize he’d been struck. Hard. Narfi’s face was clouded with fury, mouth curling into a sneer while he held an iron tray. He tossed it on the floor and grabbed Kristján’s shirt. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost…” Narfi’s lips slithered into a smile. “Could that mean our prisoner is awake?”

Thoughts jumbled in his brain. Kristján glared up at him. His eyes pulsed like red-hot needles were shoved in his eyes. “Let’s have a look.” Narfi dragged him back to the room and tossed him inside.

The prisoner was still thrashing on the bed, moaning pitifully. Narfi loomed over him and sneered. He forced the prisoner’s eyes open, checking his pupils.

“This shit isn’t happening fast enough,” he spat, and then picked up the fallen vial, inspecting it closely before anger rippled across his face. “Nathanial…you worthless fuck,” Narfi spat vengefully. “This isn’t poison at all. It’s…” Realization dawned on him, and he crushed the vial in his hand to pieces.

The prisoner’s legs kicked the blanket, and he saw that they were chained to the bedpost. They were both slaves. Kristján’s heart lurched. He didn’t know who this man was, but he felt like he did. Every cell in Kristján’s body was crying out to save him.

Narfi muttered something inaudible, shaking his head before he turned to walk away.

“Nate,” the prisoner rasped, making Narfi still immediately.

Light tremors burst over Narfi’s form. He growled low and deep in his chest. A warning. Monstrous claws inched from his hands and cold fury washed over him. Kristján stepped back, the air between them charged dangerously, and he could almost see Narfi’s thin thread of control snap. Kristján acted on impulse, thrusting himself on top of the prisoner, eyes wet but resolute.

Narfi’s lips twitched, then he threw his head back and laughed. Hard and loud. “You’re just like him…” His laughter gave way to a snarl. “But I won’t give you the chance to fuck me. You want him? He’s all yours.”

Narfi marched out the door. He jerked in horror when the bolt slid shut. Kristján leaped from his position, fist slamming against the door while Narfi’s laughter rang out. Air punched through his lungs, and Kristján’s eyes widened as a rush of pheromones flooded the room, and he spun on his heel to see the prisoner’s eyes bleeding yellow.

What the fuck? Panic clawed at his throat. Another low growl echoed in the low light, while the prisoner pushed onto his elbows, revealing the chains clasped around his wrists.

Gods. Why didn’t Kristján notice that? His knees quaked as he pressed to the door. Heat engulfed his skin and the room burned like a furnace. What’s happening? His skin felt slick and dewy, and his hole began to throb instantly. Cedar singed his throat and the prisoner’s gaze scorched his skin. Kristján fought off a wave of pleasure as it crashed over him, rippling through his entire body.

Alpha. Another growl pierced the air. A shiver ran down Kristján’s spine.

The prisoner’s eyes were wild and red, such a deep, bright red like freshly-spilled blood. Come. Kristján cried out, his insides churning. Visions of him climbing on the bed and slamming down on the alpha’s thick, bulbous knot filled his head. He whined low in his throat, while the alpha’s mouth dripped with saliva, lips curling over jagged teeth.

Come. Kristján’s feet stepped forward, slick dribbling.

What is this? Kristján’s thoughts were warped. Narfi’s strange reaction. That smell. Oh, GGods. His eyes flew to the vial on the ground, oozing black tar painted with a mist of purple haze.

Narfi was right. It wasn’t poison at all.

It was a powerful potion to induce an alpha’s rut.

Sea lavender. Kristján’s eyes widened in horror.

It was a vicious concoction that would force an alpha into a feral rut, which would eventually lead to madness, and on a ship full of other alphas it was pretty much a death sentence. Did Nathanial do this? The question is why? Kristján didn’t have time to ponder it. The alpha gnashed his teeth, the pull between them like a noose around his neck. Come.

Something inside him snapped, like the beads on a pearl necklace.

His heart clenched as the world fell from his feet.

Don’t worry, Alpha. I’m coming.

Chapter #4

TIME PASSED LIKE water dripping from a tap. The ugliness of the place deepened with each day as the men grew rancorous, no longer satisfied with kicking his mop and bucket. Filthy skrælingjar, the men muttered in the dark, wolfish irises blazing yellow. Once, they cornered him beneath the deck ready to strike, but Narfi emerged from the shadows, hand coiled around his axe. “Get back to work.”

The men had scattered like rats. Narfi’s eyes were scorching against his skin. Although he said nothing, his eyes told a different story. It was because of Narfi’s protection that Kristján walked away unscathed, but that would only last for so long.

Everything comes with a price.

Eventually, Narfi would collect in full.

Under Narfi’s lustful gaze, he did his duties, emptying the chamber pots and attending to the prisoner, all the while rage spread like molten lava in his core. Nathanial’s face often appeared in his dreams. Light and full of laughter during a time when he came to visit with his family. Although Kristján’s mother had been disowned, her sister, Nathanial’s mother, Lady Anný, visited frequently in secret.

Strange rumors emerged at court. Even in youth, Nathanial was devastatingly handsome, aloof, alluring, a ripening fruit ready to be plucked. Lord Elvar, his uncle, wasn’t an easy person to please and he always seemed to scorn Nathanial’s lofty behavior.

Kristján heard later that Nathanial was cornered by a few jackals at court and raped so viciously his insides had torn. When Kristján had seen him afterward, it was like all the light had been sucked out of his eyes. Lord Elvar whisked his family away and then returned several years later as if nothing had ever happened.

After that, Nathanial stopped coming.

Stopped communicating.

It was as if they never existed.

Then his mother got sick, and Kristján didn’t have the luxury to worry about his cousin anymore. That was then. Nathanial was nothing more than a stranger now. Kristján went down to the kitchens at his usual time, and the cook gave him a tray with a little more food on it. The prisoner was doing a lot better since Kristján was administrating medicine to him daily.

A part of Kristján looked forward to seeing him. He was becoming addicted to the piquant smell of cedar. He knocked on the door like usual before he entered, and the man on the bed thrashed, his feverish skin soaking the sheets. Kristján placed the tray on the table, wiping the sweat from his brow.

“Nate…” the man whispered frantically. “Come back to me.”

“Shhh.” Kristján cupped his cheek. “Relax.” He mixed some medicine with the broth and fed him slowly. “Eat.”

“Yellow corydalis,” the man breathed. “It was in the yellow corydalis.” He drank down the broth slowly before succumbing to sleep once again. Kristján lingered in the room, wishing that he could stay instead of heading back to do his chores. This room had been somewhat of a sanctuary the past few days. The man writhed on the bed, twisting and turning restlessly. Kristján felt a pang in his chest.

It reminded him of his mother.

Her final days before she succumbed to her fever. Tears burned his eyes and soon he was fisting the fur, biting into his lower lip. Something inside his chest cracked and he knew he couldn’t let this man die here. Kristján touched his brow. It sparked beneath his skin like a thunderbolt.

Everything about this man set his soul ablaze. Who are you? he wanted to ask, but instead began humming a sweet melody. “Nectar sweet…” the man muttered.

Kristján’s bottom lip trembled, and he broke like a dam, sobbing into the sheets. His pain felt fierce and endless, as if he was worthless. A piece of meat to the wolves. Nobody cared. Nobody listened. “Don’t…” The man was delirious, reaching out and wiping his tears. “Please.”

Kristján cried harder. If this man were awake, he’d probably beat Kristján to death just for touching him. That was the way of the world. Skrælingjar would always be considered less than human. “My mother always wanted to see the sea,” Kristján said through tears. “But she’s dead now. My best friend. She’s gone.”

The man’s hand reached out to touch Kristján’s cheek. “I’ll…be your friend…don’t worry…”

Kristján laughed wetly. Being friends with a criminal? It was ludicrous. He leaned into the warmth still. The smell of cedar made his head spin.

“You don’t hate me, right? To you, I’m not ugly.”

A startled laugh ripped from the man’s throat, but his eyes were unfocused as if he were seeing things that weren’t there. “Ugly? You’re a siren. A damn siren. I must have died and gone to heaven to spend one night with you, Nate.”

Who’s Nate? Was it short for Nathanial? Kristján wanted to ask, but he knew if he did it would shatter things between them. Instead, he continued, humming, ignoring the sputtered nonsense from the man’s lips and basking in the moment.

For now, he was wanted.

And, if he wished hard enough, loved.

KRISTJÁN WOKE EARLIER than usual. Heart thudding in his ears as he went to the man’s room, a light snore greeted him and Kristján went about changing his chamber pot and using a basin of water to wipe him down, noticing the fever seemed to have gotten worse overnight. He checked the medicine, only to frown when he realized it had an unusual scent.

Huh. There was a foul odor wafting from the small vial. He was just about to taste it when a large hand wrenched him down. Kristján cried out, dropping the medicine onto the floor, arms flailing as he came face to face with the prisoner.

“Who the fuck are you?”

Kristján reeled as if he’d been slapped. All the air rushed from his lungs as rich evergreen eyes dug into his chest. The man’s eyes were glassy and rimmed red, but the determination to stay lucid burned brighter than the sun.

“Speak!” the man spat, hands coiling into a fist on his shirt. He looked murderous, the veins throbbing in his neck. Copper skin was glistening in the low light, drenching it in gold, and his brows were drawn together into a harsh line. The air became thick and stifling, and the smell of cedar spiked, suffocating Kristján, but he held his ground.

“I’m nobody—I just bring the food—”

The man’s lips curled. “A slave.”

Kristján nodded frantically, terror gripping his insides. The man’s black hair was shaved at the sides, but the back was long, and the cornrows stopped at the nape of his neck. “Who owns you?”

“N-Narfi,” Kristján stuttered.

The man’s eyes were strange. They darted around the room, as if unable to focus on anything specifically. “What did he poison me with?”

Poison? Kristján’s heart slammed against his ribcage. His tongue felt like lead. You’ll attend to his every need. No wonder why Narfi didn’t even flinch when Kristján asked for medicine. “I—I don’t know—I’m new—I don’t know anything—”

“Shut up!” he hissed. “You—you—” His eyes rolled in his head, and he fell back, dragging Kristján with him. Wrapped in the stranger’s arms, Kristján’s entire body locked in fear. The man’s eyes snapped into focus, and he leaned in close, inhaling deeply. “Nate…is that you?”

Chapter #3

THE BARGE WAS a red cherry upon sunlit waters. Kristján gripped the edge of the ship, gazing out into the horizon. The sails were pretty as white petals, tinted a bluish-gold. Crates, chests, and barrels lined the solid oak walls, the browns reminding him of home and hearth.

Tears cooled on his skin, and amidst the swirling tide, his brows met icy water with regal dignity, sending a silent prayer to Addum as his home was wrenched from his grasp.

“Get back to work,” a voice snapped behind him, kicking over the bucket of water he was using to wash the deck. Kristján scurried to pick it up, the dirty water spilling over and muddying all the progress he’d made in the last hour. The place was an open cesspool.

The rest of the men snickered, their sunken eyes greedily watching him. Anger flared inside his chest, but he stamped it down quickly. It was no use in a place like this. The more he reacted, the more they found reasons to provoke him. Most skrælingjar received the brunt of their disgust anyway.

Kristján was so used to being kicked in the dirt that he didn’t even know what it felt like to be clean anymore. Bastards. He cursed the lot of them. He began mopping again, ignoring the sneers behind him as the world narrowed down to one task.

The Black Riff was a disgusting place. Filled to the brim with sordid men, criminals escaping all kinds of punishments. Narfi watched from the quarterdeck, his red beard a brilliant flame as he shouted orders to his men on the docks. Every time their eyes met, Kristján wanted to sink beneath the floorboards.

Narfi had dragged him out of his room in the wee hours of the morning, putting him to work in the kitchens, cleaning and doing the dishes, and emptying chamber pots. Most of it would’ve been fine, if Narfi didn’t insist on watching, then patting, Kristján’s ass whenever he needed to bend lower for an exceptionally harder task. It would get worse before it got better.

Kristján was well informed about vile men. His mother made sure he kept a small dagger in his shoe just in case. More than once he’d had to fight off his fair share of alphas who got too handsy. For now, he’d bide his time until he could figure out a way to escape.

“Skrælingjar!” a man called. “The captain is requesting you.”

Placing the mop and bucket aside, he headed toward the quarterdeck, but the minute he stepped away it was kicked over again. Kristján flinched as the water spilled, the murky water sloshing against his feet. Laughter rang like bells behind him, but he kept moving to ignore the jeers.

Narfi’s fur coat pooled around his knees, while the sun licked over his scalp, covering it in a golden haze. He kept his hand on his axe, body poised, and he turned when Kristján approached him.

“Skrælingjar,” Narfi clipped, lips curling into a smile. “You missed a spot.”

Rage quickened his blood. It thrummed through his veins hot and thick threatening to overwhelm him. It was too much. Kristján tried to breathe around it, but it lodged in his throat like a thorn. Mother’s death was like a boot against his chest. He felt raw, beaten. There was no way out.

Narfi’s eyes were black beady pits, devouring every reaction as if starved. Kristján’s back straightened, but it was too late to hide his fury. Narfi caught it quickly, eyes gleaming and latching onto it like a lifeline.

“Do you disagree?” Narfi stepped toward him with the face of a leopard. Vicious intent corded in every muscle. Kristján inhaled slowly, lowering his gaze to the floor while the men around him chuckled.

“No…”

“No, what?”

“Captain.”

Narfi grinned, bleak and twisted. “You look so much like your damn cousin.” He spat the words, but they were curdled on his tongue. “I’m sure if I closed my eyes, you could be…”

Disgust knotted his stomach. Kristján’s jaw worked, lips quivering as Narfi swayed toward him, taking another whiff of his scent. “Too bad the sight of you is enough to make me lose my lunch.” Narfi pivoted away just as quickly. “Besides, I brought you here for a reason.”

Kristján released a breath he didn’t realize he was holding and listened carefully.

“The prisoner we spoke about…” Narfi continued. “You’ll feed him once a day and report to me on his condition. You’ll attend to his every need unless I say otherwise. If he says anything, you will notify me immediately, understood?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Good…now get the fuck out of my sight. You’re polluting my air.”

Kristján didn’t need to be told twice. He scampered across the deck quickly, ignoring their hate-fueled gazes as they dragged across his skin. Salted pork and flour marinated the air when he reached the kitchens. Kristján waited as the cook sloshed some broth in a bowl along with a biscuit and shoved it at him. “Prisoner is through there.” The cook pointed to a long corridor, to a stairwell where the air was thick and damp.

Balancing the tray, he walked slowly until he found a door at the end of the hallway. Strange noises were coming from within, and he hesitated. What the hell?

Whimpering sounds like a wounded animal reached his ears and Kristján knocked before opening it. The room was unbearably hot. The fireplace crackled and popped while the flames licked upward. A heady scent of cedar punched through his chest, and he staggered, nearly dropping the food. Vertigo almost made his knees buckle. The rich, pungent aroma filled his nostrils in a wave so tantalizing that Kristján could barely breathe. He scrambled to place the food on the night table, body quaking when his blurry eyes latched onto the source.

A visceral reaction shot straight through him like a bullet, shattering his ribcage.

Gods, he was stunning.

Fur blankets covered the man’s naked torso, but his entire body was glistening in sweat, the rise and fall of his bronzed skin labored, his lungs rattling. Cornrows adorned his scalp, while his meaty arms were trembling, and his head tossed from side to side. His eyes were scrunched closed, while puffs of air were pushed between full lips. Sun-kissed skin made Kristján’s heart roar in his ears. The man’s massive chest was wiry, while his eight-packed dipped below the comforter. 

Heat burned Kristján’s cheeks, and he looked away quickly, ignoring how his skin flushed at the man’s V-shaped pubic bones. Kristján placed his hand over the man’s forehead and found it was ripe with fever. He grabbed a nearby basin and filled it with ice water, trying to cool his skin with a dampened rag.

Alpha. Kristján’s cock twitched. He felt delirious as he cleaned the man, careful not to arouse him, and gently brought the broth to his lips. The man stirred, nearly knocking the bowl off the tray in one feral swipe. Kristján jolted as hot soup scalded his hands, but he managed to pull away before it dropped. The man was whispering beneath his breath, eyelids fluttering as if trapped in some unspeakable nightmare.

Kristján felt it down to the marrow of his bones, as if a string from his heart had twined around this man’s ribcage and tugged violently. Who are you? Nothing made sense. Kristján touched his furrowed brow and instantly, the man’s expression smoothed.

Cedar brimmed in his lungs.

Kristján felt drunk.

Intoxicated.

As if he’d flung himself off a cliff and plunged to the depths of the sea. He wanted to nuzzle into this man’s neck, burrow himself in his skin and stay there forever. The man made a strange noise in his throat, and Kristján stuffed more pillows beneath his head, then brought the broth to his lips.

The man ate slowly, lips coiling around the spoon while some broth drizzled down his chin. Kristján mopped it up with his hands, mindful of his long nails so as not to pierce his flesh. Kristján licked his dry lips, pulse racing. Everything seemed far more confusing than ever before.

He fed the man and made sure the fire was stoked before he had to take the tray back, but the moment he tried to leave the man whimpered. Kristján froze, thoughts whirling.

What should he do? If he stayed, he’d get in trouble because he had other duties. Kristján warred with himself, then placed a cool hand over the man’s forearm. “I’ll be back.”

The man calmed, falling back into a restless sleep. Kristján stepped outside the room, closing the door before he almost ran headfirst into Narfi.

“How is he?”

Kristján jumped, hands clutching the tray in a white-knuckled grip. “O-okay. He needs medicine for the fever.”

Narfi’s face was carved from the ice as he stared down at him. “Done.”

They stood there in stony silence for several moments before Narfi spoke again. “You will…attend his every need, understood?”

Kristján’s eyes darted to the floor, and he licked his dry lips. “Yes, Captain.” It was only a matter of time anyway. Kristján was well aware that he was Narfi’s slave, which meant he could do whatever he wished. “I’ll…do what is required.”

Narfi lifted his chin and turned his head from side to side. His large, rippled thumb pinched his chin and dragged across his smooth skin. “It’s fucking uncanny…”

Narfi looked odd.

Possessed.

Black eyes alit with a fierceness that made Kristján stumble back. Narfi’s face hardened, eyes narrowed into pinpricks. “Get back to work.”

Kristján hurried around him, eager to get away from his suffocating scent. Narfi watched after him, eyes blazing. The day passed in an exhausting blur of chores. Once the ship was far at sea, the men were busy with their duties and didn’t have time to bother him anymore.

Yet the threat always loomed over his head like an anvil.

Narfi’s expression haunted his dreams. Kristján knew what men like him were like. Wicked. Soulless. It made his skin crawl. Narfi wanted him, that much was clear, but most Þrælar would rather chew off their left arm than admit it. At least, not in the light of day.

Kristján barred his door that night.

Praying to Cephy, Goddess of the Sea, for safe passage.

Hiding beneath the covers, it wasn’t until deep into the night that the doorknob jostled insistently. Fear made him fold, clutching onto the blankets as he willed his heart to calm down. It lasted only for a moment, before the sound disappeared, along with fleeting footsteps. Relief did not come. Instead, his anxiety intensified. He’d be back. You look so much like your cousin. Bile burned his throat.

Kristján knew he had to get the fuck out of here.

But how could he?

Trapped on a ship as a slave, bound for Dalvík.

Chapter #2

“WHAT THE fuck is this, Nathanial?” the man spat, arms folding over his chest. Fur adorned his shoulders, his leather breastplate was glossy in the night, and his ginger hair was shaved close to his scalp. His eyes were hardened evergreens, set into a fierce glare while the rest of the men loaded the ship.

The silver-white moon hung above their heads, casting a milky glow along the surface of the sea. A wintry wind blew harshly, covering the man’s vermillion beard in frost.

“My gift to you.” Nathanial’s voice was light as a feather, his hands splayed and his lips quirked into a coy smile. “Dearest, this is the best I could come up with.”

“He’s a fucking skrælingjar,” the man sneered. “Take it away before you scare off my men.”

“Pshh!” Nathanial admonished. “Don’t be rude. Kristján is perfectly capable of working off my debt as we agreed.”

“I didn’t agree to jack shit, you mad fuck—”

“But if you’re not satisfied…perhaps you wouldn’t mind if my father found out?”

The man looked like he wanted to spit fire, his face flushing furiously. “Dammit. You’re a ruthless bitch.”

“Excellent.” Nathanial beamed, clasping his hands together. “I’ll take my leave now. Kristján is a good boy, not like that other filthy skrælingjar. You have nothing to worry about.”

The ocean breeze tousled Kristján’s thin shirt, and tears burned his eyes again when he took in the massive ship that sat brazenly magnificent on top of still waters. Rotten fish filled his nostrils, the stench making him almost gag, while the light mist of brine left a salty taste in his mouth. The men’s gazes were penetrating as they sized him up one by one. A skrælingjar on a ship was just like inviting a curse.

Kristján swallowed around the blockage in his throat, knees quivering as they finalized the deal. “If that’s it then, I’ll take my leave—”

Panic made him start. Heart pounding, he reached out to grip Nathanial’s arm tightly.

White rage flashed in Nathanial’s eyes before he stamped it down quickly, his smile stuck like porcelain. “What is it, dearest?”

“Mother,” he said, throat feeling like sandpaper. “Make sure you bury her. Make sure—”

“Of course!” Nathanial cooed, slowly wrenching his arm away. “She’ll get the finest care. My most capable doctors are on their way there now. I promise. Don’t worry about a thing.” Then he looked away and sighed. “I really must be going now. Be a good boy. Okay? I’ll see you soon.”

Lies. All of it.

Kristján nearly choked from the weight of it. Bastard. His mother had nursed him when he was sick. Dried his tears. Listened. Loved. But to men like Nathanial, all of that was meaningless now. Hatred brimmed to a boiling point. Meanwhile, Nathanial carried on heedlessly.

Nathanial brushed up on the man, pressing an icy kiss to his cheek and releasing a heady scent of pheromones. The bristling alpha calmed immediately; his rough hands curled around the trunk of Nathanial’s swan neck. “You should’ve just let me fuck you…” he said gruffly. “That would’ve been payment enough.”

Nathanial teased his nose over the man’s lips, dipping forward to steal a kiss. “I’m engaged…” he whispered heatedly. “What kind of omega would I be?”

“The filthy kind.” The man’s voice deepened. “The best kind.”

“You’d like that wouldn’t you?” Nathanial’s hand slipped to the front part of the man’s pants; he massaged his bulge until he began to stiffen beneath his fingers. “You’d invoke the wrath of King Titus just to fuck me?”

“Yeah right,” the man scoffed. “He’s too busy fucking the jarls to notice. Useless prick. The Arctic demon? What a joke. More like the Arctic bitch.”

Soon,” Nathanial growled, pressing up against him, moving his hand faster and faster.

The man’s face grew heated. He grabbed Nathanial’s wrist roughly. “Don’t start something you can’t finish.”

Nathanial’s lips tugged into a smile. “You win…will you take him? For me? Please?

The man made a strange noise in his throat, then released Nathanial. “Fine. You owe me. Big.”

“And I always pay my debts,” Nathanial sang, then flittered off with the wind, leaving Kristján standing there in the mud. The man’s eyes snapped back to Kristján, his throat bobbed, and he stroked his beard. “Fuck,” he cursed again and shook his head. “Follow me.”

Nathanial’s beauty was that of an icicle. It was as cold and alluring as it was deadly. There’s no doubt Ikses, the god of winter, would be jealous.

Kristján could only pray that the gods made his dick rot off.

The man boarded the ship. Kristján trailed behind, his chains dragging on the floorboards. Various men scurried around the helm. They all stilled the moment Kristján came aboard, their eyes widening in shock. “Don’t mind them, just stay close to me,” the man said guiding him to the deck below to a single room; inside there was one small bunk bed and a night table. The air was dank but warm from the bitter cold. “Put on these.” He handed Kristján woolen clothes and shoes, which were much better than the ones he had on. “In the morning, you’ll start your shift, clean out the chamber pots, wash the deck, and after you’ll be sent to work in the kitchen. My name is Narfi Gýmisson, our crew is named the White Shark Raiders, and the ship is called the Black Riff.”

Kristján nodded trying to take it all on. Although he’d be a slave here, he might as well make the best of it. Narfi’s face was enclosed by shadow as he regarded him for a moment.

“How old are you?” 

“Eighteen,” Kristján replied.

“Have you had your first heat?”

Kristján felt his cheeks warm. He stared down at the floor, twiddling his thumb. Since skrælingjar were so rare, things like heats and ruts weren’t normally discussed because their designation usually came very late. The mutual hatred between the Þrælar and jarls made them both steer clear of skrælingjar in public, but in private they were raped and brutalized by both. Kristján hasn’t had his first heat yet, but he could tell from various other skrælingjar omegas that it wouldn’t be welcomed. Most of them were sold to brothels or beaten to death in the trenches, their clothes stripped away while they lay naked in the gutter.

Kristján never hated his designation more.

His heart throbbed, but he willed his voice to be steady. “Not yet.”

“You’ll lock yourself in here when it’s close to your time. We can’t have you inciting violence amongst the men, even if you are a skrælingjar. Some of the men haven’t fucked in months. You’ll be wise to remember that,” Narfi warned.

Dread pooled in his stomach and his hands curled around his clothes.

Narfi cocked his brow, then leaned in taking a whiff of his scent. “You’re pretty…I don’t like pretty. It’s dangerous. In fact, you look just like your cousin…if not better.” He inched forward, crowding Kristján’s space. “Too bad you’re a filthy skrælingjar or else I’d have you bent over the nearest desk. Luckily for you, your cousin’s debt will be paid in full once we’ve docked in Dalvík…” Narfi’s eyes drank him in hungrily.

Heat flamed his skin. Pheromones marinated the air, filling it with the heavy scent of sandalwood. Kristján’s chest heaved. He backed up as far as he could go, hands braced against the night table.

“Until then, you’ll keep your mouth shut. There is a prisoner on board. High profile. Only you will feed him. Only you will attend to him. He’s drugged. Delirious. He attacks all my men, but he won’t attack you…” Narfi inhaled loudly. “That’s only because you’re pretty.”

Bile surged in his throat, and Kristján turned his face away, trying to stamp down his growing fear. Narfi’s hand pinched his backside, and the ends of his beard tickled Kristján’s throat. Blood thundered in his ears, and Kristján tensed as nimble fingers slipped beneath the waistband of his pants. “If you do this, I might reward you with your freedom…” Narfi said breathlessly, hot air cascading over Kristján’s cheek. “Understood?”

“Yes,” Kristján forced through clenched teeth.

“Good.” Narfi backed away. “I’ll come to get you tomorrow when you start your shift. Sweet dreams.”

Kristján’s knees nearly buckled. All the air fled in his lungs and dizziness swept over him like a tidal wave. Damn alpha. He gritted his teeth, hands curling around the night table in a white-knuckled grip. What the hell was he going to do? Kristján looked at the clean clothes and the small basin of rapidly cooling water in his room. He took off his rags and climbed in, using a bar of soap to clean the dirt caked on his skin.

There was a mirror on the door, and Kristján stepped out of the tub to stare at himself.

Pretty. The word felt like sneered mockery. Skrælingjars were anything but pretty. Two large gray wolf ears twitched over his head, while his thin bloodless lips curled over his teeth, his canines long and sharp. His eyes were too wide, beseeching orbs of burnt leaves and swirling greens, while his black hair sat like a mop of curls on his scalp, the tendrils framing his face and the nape of his neck.

Not pretty. Ugly. Abomination.

Kristján almost drove his fist through the mirror.

You’ll always be beautiful, Kristján, his mother used to say, pressing a kiss to his temple. Bitter tears slipped from his eyes, and he changed into the woolen clothes, sighing because they felt thick and plush against his skin. The room was quaint, and most of the cabin was kept in mint condition. He folded onto the bed, tears drenching the pillow, and fell into a fitful sleep.

Chapter #1

Reykjavik, Iceland

Age of the Barbarians

Five years later…

 

LANTERNS WASHED THE room in a drunken golden haze. The floorboards creaked like old bones beneath the shifting weight of his feet, while intricate wooden carvings made up most of the outer structure. Kristján kept his gaze low, pinned to the table that was still warm from the meager meal he’d had earlier. Rats scurried around his feet, while the stench of sour milk and sweat lingered in the air.

“That’s how it has to be, dearest.” Nathanial’s voice was like the soft strings of a melody. He reached a delicate hand forward, long slender fingers poised to touch, but skittered away like a cockroach at the last minute.

They haven’t touched in years. Two large men loomed by the door; their hulking statures were enough to make Kristján’s knees quake. Beady eyes drilled into him, and he caught a whiff of their open disdain. Filthy skrælingjar. Well, they could fuck off to hell and back. Yet still, Kristján snaked his hands beneath the table, hiding the talon-like claws and his perked ears flattened.

“B-but…” Kristján’s voice was tired. Weak. Nothing but a frail squeak of nonsensical sounds.

“Don’t you want to leave? Isn’t this the perfect opportunity?” Nathanial cut him off, a hint of impatience in his tone. “Come now, it won’t be for too long.”

The words made his head snap up. He gazed at Nathanial disbelieving before his eyes darted to the men by the door carrying heavy iron chains. A viperous grin slithered over Nathanial’s lips, and his black hair cascaded over his broad shoulders, pooling on his lap like ink. Pale as the moon, Nathanial’s peach blossom eyes were curved with mocking laughter, and his pink lips were the color of red wine.

“Cousin,” he half moaned and half pouted. “Don’t you want to do this favor for me?”

Acid sloshed around in Kristján’s stomach. Favor? How the fuck was any of this a favor? Nathanial always had this way of twisting things, downplaying the seriousness by cooing noises. The reality was that Kristján was being sent to his death and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. 

He wanted to spit, but instead, his hands curled around his ratty clothing. Nathanial’s shirt gaped at the collar into a large V-neck; his slender hands were those of prestige, while he dripped with diamonds and jewels. Kristján wished to the gods he’d choke on them.

A knot swelled in Kristján’s throat, and tears burned his eyes. This was it. There was no going back now. Nathanial was a Þrælar of nobility, his status worth more than gold. They both knew Kristján couldn’t refuse. Not if he wanted to keep his head and neck intact.

“It’ll be a few years at most,” Nathanial continued, drumming his fingers on the table. “You’ll be back before you know it.”

Kristján didn’t dare argue. If he did, he’d cut Nathanial to pieces in one fell swoop. Yet, Kristján refrained. He was smarter than that. Although they were cousins, the skrælingjar had no rights and Nathanial could decide to just kill him and be done with it. “Where…will they take me?”

Nathanial stood suddenly. He swept across the room, intoxicating the air with his sweet scent of pear cider. He walked towards an old picture hanging on the door. It was of the three of them when Nathanial came to visit as a child, towering over Kristján with their arms around each other, while Kristján’s mother hugged them from behind. Nathanial thumbed the photo gracefully, but his brow twitched and darkness clouded his features.

Fear seized him by the throat.

Kristján wanted to jump up and snatch the photo off the wall to stop him from crushing it. Nathanial’s mouth curled in disgust, before he pivoted sharply, forcing a waxy smile. “To Dalvík,” he said. “You’ll be back in no time. Now, I really must be going, so say goodbye and we’ll be on our way.”

Kristján choked on despair, tears brimmed before spilling over, but he hung his head and did what his cousin commanded. The journey to the backroom felt endless. Kristján felt as if he were walking in slow motion, his body on autopilot. Opening the door, his heart thundered in his chest when he took in his mother lying on the cot.

Kristján fell to his knees, fisting the blanket as he sobbed. Her pale skin was chalky, covered in a thin film of sweat while her cheeks were hollowed. Her lungs rattled with every breath, like the sound of coins in a basket, and Kristján knew this would be the last time he ever saw her.

Don’t be afraid, Mother used to say, cupping his cheek. Kristján’s mother had been raped by a jarl noble. When her Þrælar family found out, they disowned her, forcing her out of the house and into the streets. Skrælingjar were considered rare, an abomination due to the intense hatred between jarls and the Þrælar, a sick amalgamation fused with dark magic.

“Mother,” Kristján cried, burying his face in the cot. “I’m sorry.”

She got sick several months ago with yellow fever. Kristján worked at the factory for years before they fired him when new management took over. They didn’t want someone as disgusting as a skrælingjar to be seen by their customers. Kristján had been forced to do odd jobs here and there, but they never kept him for long and it was mostly out of pity.

“Dearest?” Nathanial called from the kitchen. “Are you almost ready?”

Kristján clenched his jaw so tight that it nearly snapped. He pressed a kiss to his mother’s forehead, inhaling deeply, trying to imprint the memory of her in his mind forever. Then he stood, gathered what belongings he could, and threw on his beige cloak. The white fleece shirt hung off his lithe frame. Apart from the tears and stains, it kept him relatively dry from the bitter cold.

Kristján’s pants stopped at his ankles and were torn at the kneecaps, while his shoes had more holes than anything else. He packed what he could, biting his lip as the tears refused to stop falling, and threw the knapsack over his back. He turned back to his mother lying on the cot, her body still as if she were asleep, but Kristján knew otherwise.

The doctor told him by tonight she would be dead.

There was nothing he could do. No burial. No gifts to Addum, God of the Moon. Nothing to guide her soul to the netherworld. Maggots already writhed in her toes, and the rats would feast on her tonight. A shudder ripped across his skin, but he forced himself to keep moving. He blew out the candles and turned off the lights; his heart clenched when the door was firmly closed shut.

Nathanial was pacing the kitchen, irises the color of liquid gold. “Finally,” he breathed out, but it was poised like a knife over his chest. “Come along now. Your new adventure awaits.”

Kristján wiped the tears from his cheeks; he felt chilled to the bone. “Who did you sell me to?”

“Never mind all that.” Nathanial waved his hand dismissively. He slipped the photo into the bag holding all of Kristján’s belongings. “It’s only for a little while, trust me. Now come, this place is making my skin itch.”

The man took his bag and clasped his hands in chains. Kristján kept his head low as they walked him out of the only home he’s ever known like a prisoner. At night the street was still bustling with people. Few stopped and stared, and Nathanial brought him to a small carriage, then pivoted abruptly.

Oh,” Nathanial laughed, but something ferocious glinted in his eyes. “There’s no room inside! You understand, right dearest? Plus, you’re used to walking, aren’t you? The ride will be quick, don’t worry. We’ll just chain you to the back to make sure you don’t escape. I can’t have my asset running off now, can I?”

Crisp winter air slapped at his skin, snatching the little warmth he had left. Kristján bit his tongue until it bled. He said nothing as they chained him to the back of the carriage, and the horse took off at a moderate speed, slow enough for him to keep up.

Nathanial was always like this. He never cared. Even if they were cousins, to him Kristján was nothing. A yellow stain upon pure white snow. Nobody knew of their relations, and Nathanial would rather die than tell anyone. Grief settled like a shard in his chest. Kristján tried to breathe around it, but his lungs cinched tighter and tighter.

He looked back at his house, watching it fade in the distance until it became a speck.

Ridged fingertips and floral scents made the edges of his vision blur.

Nathanial had sold him to clear his debts.

As if his life was worth nothing more than a penny.

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