“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.