Skellar the Warrior came out of the palace and turned his face up to the sky. The snow fell, relentlessly, and as it fell on his blade the white snow turned pink and then red as it dripped to the ground. He ignored the snow cleansing the blade, as he ignored most things. He lived for only two things, battle and sex. He had finished battle, and now there was only to claim his prize.
Before him the ice sheets stretched to the horizon, and the clouds overhead lay so heavy that it seemed night though it was only mid-afternoon. The snow collected on his great horned battle helmet, and on the shoulders of his leather sark, and pooled around his boots. He allowed the snow to collect on his moustache and eyelashes. It did not matter.
But where – where? – was that infernal maiden? Where had she fled?
She could not be far, certainly. When he had entered the hall, his great sword held high, she had been there – and she had run past him and towards the door, near-naked as she was, while the man she had been lying with had roared with fury, picked up a battle axe, and rushed, also near-naked, upon Skellar.
It had been no contest. The man’s blood and the snow mingled. Skellar stood in the snow and drank the wind.
“She couldn’t have gone far…” he said. “Not far.” Not with almost nothing on. Not shoeless in that snow, over those ice sheets.
“For a certainty she has gone back into the palace,” he decided. He turned and went back in. This time he observed his surroundings more carefully. The heavy leather hangings either side of the door, for instance; he struck them with the flat of his blade. They gave, reluctantly, but they gave. There was nothing behind them.
He went back and stood looking down at the dead man. He went round the room carefully, using his sword to prod into spaces and lift bedspread and wall-hanging and curtain. He picked up the dead man’s axe and stuck it into his belt. He did not think much of axes as weapons, but if he had it with him then it was not left lying about for her. He even stuck his sword through the fire until it struck the wall behind. No other door. No hiding place. Nothing.
Skellar was well aware that he had not forever to find her. The rest of her clan would return from their raid with wine and women. She would be trying to hide from him for that length of time. And what explanation would she give if they found her naked with a naked dead man? Skellar shrugged. He had no intention that she would be able to tell them anything.
He went out again, but not all the way out. He stood in the doorway, looking out. He looked around the doorway. Then he looked up.
He saw her bare toes first, lit orange by the glow from the fire, and then a bit of her legs, and then, tilting his head right back, he saw her. She was clinging to the wall above the door, pressing herself against it, her head thrown back, her eyes closed tight. How she had got up there only the God of the Hammer knew.
“Come down,” he told her, quite gently. “Or I’ll chop your feet off.”
She gasped, her eyes flying open, and she lost her grip on the wall and toppled slowly over on him. He stepped back and let her fall to the floor, on hands and knees. Then he pressed the tip of his sword to the back of her bowed neck.
“Get up very slowly,” he said. “And go back into the other room. Or I’ll kill you as I killed him.”
“You’ll kill me anyway,” she told him, rising. She made no attempt to cover her nakedness. “You’ll kill me after you’re through with me. Even though I am the daughter of a chief.”
“That I will. But you’re still alive, and while you are, you’ll do what I tell you.” He pointed the sword at her navel. “Go into that room.”
She went past him, not despairingly, not sullenly, but like a queen, head thrown back, shoulders squared. She was very tall, the top of her head almost up to Skellar’s chin. Her skin was white as the ice, her hair pale as the winter sun.
“What do you want me to do?”
“You know what I want you to do,” he told her. “Do it.”
“He will never let you get away with it, you know,” she told him, even as she reached for the fastenings of his breeches. “My father. He will chase you to the end of the world and over the cliff there.”
“That would be my problem, not yours.”
She was good, Skellar admitted, with the skill that came with long experience. She was excellent. But even as his senses were swimming in pleasure, he kept his hand on the sword and he kept his eyes open. She was good, but she was the enemy.
Afterwards, when she saw that he was going to kill her, she made no attempt to raise a hand to ward off the blow. “I have just one request before you kill me,” she said.
“What?” The sword was poised, his muscles bunched for the thrust.
“Don’t disfigure me,” she said. “Let them find me dead as a princess should be dead, not as a…as him.” She pointed.
He thought about it. “All right,” he said. “Lie down on the bed and arrange yourself as you will. I promise to make it quick.”
He killed her then, when she was on her back – naked and defiant to the last – with a single thrust between her breasts. Then he turned and went out again, oddly unhappy. She had cheated him somehow, he thought. She had cheated him by making him do what she wanted, by making him kill her the way she wanted, not as how he would have done it, by a blow to the back of her neck. She had turned her death into a tableau of her victory.
By the time he had decided this he was already far from the palace, and the snow drifting down in eddies obscured the lines of the building. He wanted to go back, to return and raze it to the ground or at least to defile her corpse, to deny her the tableau she wanted. But it would be a hollow victory. The game was over.
“She beat me,” he whispered savagely to himself. “That witch beat me.” And he gritted his teeth in anger and shame.
Gently, the snow continued to fall.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2008