Love Thy Enemy
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by Judith Lynn
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: He holds her father captive and threatens his life. She must lie with him until she bears him a son. She hates him; he scorns her. She will do what she must. He will make her do more--much more. Inextricably joined with her father's enemy, Tora Oddvarsdatter feels like a traitor when pulsing desire and sensual pleasure rock her each time Jarl Magnus takes her into his masculine embrace. Magnus won't allow Tora to lie stiffly beneath him as if she were a suffering martyr. In the blanketing darkness, he skillfully arouses her until she begs for his touch, and he forgets who he holds in his arms. War erupts, sweeping Magnus and Tora far away from the tragedy that brought them together, oddly presenting the two with time to heal and make peace. But courtly intrigue and treachery threaten to shatter their tenuous truce and rip them from each other's arms. Only deep true love can see them through the calamity that strikes them. Will they triumph?
eBook Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory, 2001
eBookwise Release Date: July 2003
128 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [400 KB]
Reading time: 267-374 min.
"Although it contains echoes of both "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Taming of the Shrew", Love Thy Enemy is a fresh and appealing story. Judith Lynn has created a medieval world full of beauty and pain. Love Thy Enemy is an exciting and entertaining book that is sure to captivate readers."--MyShelf.com
Tora knelt before her father, taking his big rough hands in her slender ones. His shackles clanked together, bringing a lump to her throat. This was the first time she'd been allowed to see him since his arrest five weeks earlier. They sat together in a tent at Hundorp, where the Ting was being held. She anxiously searched his face, still seeking to understand the sudden chaos in their settled lives. Her concern grew as she got a closer look at her father. He had aged since she saw him last. Graying stubble accentuated his colorless jowls and there were dark circles under his eyes.
"Papa?" she whispered.
He glanced at her face, then averted his gaze. "Tora," he said and drew a deep breath. Slowly he lifted his head and met her eyes. Her stomach knotted as she saw the look of total defeat there.
"Tora," he began again, "I have failed you."
"No, never! The jarl's accusations aren't true!"
Oddvar drew his hands away from hers and covered his face with them. "God help me, they are."
"But I don't understand. You would never leave an injured child!"
"I thought 'twas but a dream, a nightmare woven by too much wine. Until Jarl Magnus held you at sword point. Tora, I swear to you, I never saw the lad. Everything was a blur-- I couldn't think. Curse the wine! I knew not that there was a boy! My God, what have I done, what have I done?"
Tora blinked away the sudden moisture in her eyes. How often in her seventeen years of life had she helped a drunken Oddvar to bed after riding home slumped over in his saddle? And how clearly she recalled the last time she had done so.
She'd awoken with a start as various thumps, groans and oaths brought her from her dream world into the present.
"Bring him in here. Though Heaven knows he deserves the stables."
"By Thor, he's not getting any lighter with the years!"
"It's not that you're getting gray and bent yourself, then?"
"Hold your tongue, woman. I'm not so old as I can't take you over my knee and teach you some respect!"
Tora buried her head beneath the covers of her bed, but a heavy thud and another curse sent her scurrying from her bed. She glanced at an all-too-familiar scene while heading to the open hearth to build up the fire. Her father lay sprawled unconscious on the dirt floor, rumbling snores erupting from his thick throat in demand that no one ignore him.
Edda stood over him, her lips drawn tight in disapproval while Bjorn stretched his back and grimaced. "I hold great affection for your father, Tora," she said, "but one of these days, I'm going to leave him lie where his horse drops him."
Tora sighed and turned to her companions, her long blond braid swinging from side to side. "It's been so long. I'd begun to believe this wouldn't happen again."
"The eternal hope of youth..." Bjorn muttered.
"Come on, let's get him to bed," Tora said.
Together the three of them tugged, pushed and hoisted Oddvar across the floor and up onto a sleeping bench. Tora eased his muddy boots off his feet. No harm seemed to come from his drink, and he was a good man at heart, a loving father, a generous friend and concerned landowner. He just had this weakness....
She watched as Edda loosened the wide leather belt around her father's bulging belly and placed a folded cloth beneath his head.
"You're a real mess this time." Edda rubbed a cloth over Oddvar's dirty face and hands. "Fool. One day, you'll bring the wrath of the gods, both Christian and Norse, upon all of us."
Or the wrath of a blood-thirsty jarl.
Tora shivered beside her father in the warm tent at Hundorp. Only the priest's intervention had saved them from having their throats cut and their life's blood spilled into the dirt floor beneath her feet at Loren farm that fateful day. She pulled Oddvar's hands from his face and looked into grieving blue eyes, so like her own. She couldn't stand to see her father so forlorn.
"Everything will be all right, Papa, it will! You will tell them it was an accident, how sorry you are, how sorry we all are!"
Oddvar squeezed her hands hard, his voice suddenly harsh. "Listen to me, Tora. All will not be well. 'Tis time you faced that fact. I have killed the jarl's only child! He has no wife and now no heir. I could not appease him. He will demand everything-- our land, our belongings. He might cast us off to become landless beggars." Oddvar caught Tora by her shoulders and stared into her eyes. "He might demand my life!"
* * *
TORA CUT A swath where she walked through tall whispering grasses. She zigzagged around campsites, one person and another calling out to her in passing. Tora imagined everyone knew of her father's disgrace, but she forced her chin up, glad that twilight masked her inner turmoil from curious eyes.
People gathered from far and near to attend the summer Ting at Hundorp in Gudbrandsdale on the slopes of the River Logan. Many brought their families, and some of the women earned coins or goods for cooking for the single men. They slept under the open sky and enjoyed their respite from the tediousness of everyday life.
There was no rest for Tora. The cheerful atmosphere only made her more restless as she waited for the jarl's complaint to be put before the elected council and a ruling made. This was the law of free men. Each voice could be heard and, usually, justice prevailed. However, if a man held great wealth, was a great warrior or noble, his voice would speak louder than other's.
Tora groaned. Jarl Magnus was all three.
Midsummer's night was upon them, and people gathered in the soft light of the endless day to drink, laugh and dance together. Blazing bonfires lent warmth to the mountain air, smoke drifted with the sound of flutes and drums as couples joined in reels. Tora stood on the outskirts, watching, but not seeing.
"Tora, come dance with me!"
Arne Finnsson came out of the dusk, his fresh clean face smiling at her. Tora mustered a smile for her betrothed. "I cannot dance, Arne, 'twould not be right."
"Tora, you must not be so glum. Dancing will lift your spirits. Only then can you be of any comfort to your father." Without waiting for a reply, Arne grabbed Tora's hand and pulled her out into the crowd.
Dancing was a poor idea. Her heart was too heavy to lighten. "We must stop, Arne, please!" But Arne disappeared as partners changed. As she stepped and turned to the music, Tora caught the disapproving looks from matrons and men alike.
"Have you no shame, girl?" one whirling partner bit out before releasing her to move on in the dance.
Arne's mother caught her by the arm and drew her aside. "Get away, Tora, before you bring misery upon us all! What will the council think if they spy you dancing merrily while your father is in grave trouble? They'll think you mock the seriousness of his offense, that you take your situation with careless ease. You do not help your father, thus, Tora."
Horrified, Tora tore away from Arne's mother, stumbling over her feet as she fled the dance. She slowed only when she reached the dusky perimeter of the camp and bent over to gulp in air, her stomach churning.
"My son lies newly buried, your father awaits my vengeance, and you delight in a dance."
Tora straightened with a jerk, turning to find Lord Magnus glowering at her. He placed a large warm hand on the nape of her neck and brought her close to him, so close that Tora could see each dark whisker on his bold chin and the crowfeet at the corners of his blazing blue eyes as he gazed down at her. He hid none of his contempt from her, and she knew it would be useless to try to explain.
"Let me go." She made to move away from him, but his hand tightened on her neck, holding her captive.
"What kind of woman could be so callous?"
His hand on her naked skin made it difficult to concentrate. Her pulse raced as she imagined the strength in that hand and the ease in which the towering man before her could snap her neck in two.
"It was a mistake," she managed to say. "Why would you not reach an agreement with my father and settle this matter? Why do you torment us so?"
"Torment you? Stupid, little fool. My life has been hell since... You think you are tormented? Your misery has only just begun!" He bit out the words with such enmity that Tora trembled.
"What is it you want from us? What do you seek from my father?" she whispered. She searched his face for answers.
He gave no answer. Abruptly the warmth of his hand vanished from her nape, and he turned on his heel to go. Over his shoulder he called, "Sleep well, Tora Oddvarsdatter, on this, your last night of delight."
* * *
MAGNUS STOOD before the council on the fourth day of the Ting, dressed in his finest kirtle and hose. A large ruby rested against his chest and another gem gleamed upon his ring finger. He took grim satisfaction in the way the pale man across from him twisted his hat in his shackled hands. His anticipation was great. By the end of the day, Oddvar would be on his knees, begging for mercy. Magnus turned to face the council.
"My good men," he began, "I have come to seek retribution for a most heinous injustice against my household."
The crowd fell silent, waiting in anticipation for the drama that would unfold before them. As a cold ball of hate turned in his gut, Magnus described the killing of his son, calling the crime 'murder' and an avoidable tragedy.
"I lay all blame at the feet of Oddvar Amundsson, Master of Loren. I seek justice and retribution. This man must make good my loss."
Head Counsel Brann asked Oddvar if he would speak on his own behalf.
"No, sir, the brunt of his lordship's words are true. I wish the terrible deed undone. I have tried to make retribution to Lord Ringebu, but he has denied me this. I have offered him both money and land, but he has turned me away. I know not what he seeks." Oddvar's uncertain gaze darted from the council to Jarl Magnus and back again.
"What say you, my lord? What retribution is it that you seek?"
"I am a rich man," Magnus answered. "I have wealth and lands beyond counting. I have power and my word is heeded. Everyone here knows of my deeds for the king, both here and abroad. And this man, in a single instant, robbed me of the most important thing in a man's life-- my son, and my heir.
"The last of the great line of Ringebu, which for generations has guarded and protected the people of this region. Oddvar's money means naught to me. His lands mean nothing to me. My son..." Magnus paused.
"I would..." he began again, turning to regard only one-- Tora. After her blatant disregard last night of the gravity of her father's offense, he wanted to see her reaction to his next words firsthand. She stared back at him, waiting, her golden hair flowing like a veil around her pale stiff face. One trembling hand clutched at her bosom, but she did not falter or faint. "...see him dead, dead at the point of my sword!"
"No!" Tora rushed past the council to throw herself at him. He caught her fisted hands and shoved her to Aksel who caught and subdued her.
"Ancient law would have me slaughter the whole family, but I am a modern man and will settle for one life for my son."
Tora appealed to the council. "You must not let him kill my father! This isn't right." The councilmen gave her no notice.
"We shall hear your voices, yea or nay," Brann ordered the councilmen. "Shall Oddvar Amundsson of Loren farm forfeit his life for his role in the death of the heir to Ringebu? Sven?"
The world spun and a strange buzzing in her ears nearly drowned out the councilmen's voices as one after another voted in favor of her father's execution. The hammer fell, jarring Tora out of her stupor.
Brann silenced the crowd with another thud of his mallet. "The council is unanimous. But you will not kill him yourself, Magnus. We will follow the law. Have your men take the prisoner to the block and fetch Grim. There's work for him."
Tora broke away from Aksel and ran to Brann. "No! It cannot be! Spare him!"
Oddvar was already being led away, the crowd preparing to follow. Frantic, Tora jerked on Brann's arm, forcing him to pay attention to her. "You know my father! He is a good man. This was a terrible accident, not murder."
"The jarl is left without an heir, Tora. It is just. One life for another." Brann removed her hand from his arm and proceeded to leave. "Would you rather it be you, a child for a child?"
One life for another. A child for a child. You... you... me.
A desperate thought raced through Tora. "Wait! The jarl demands one life for his son's! But why must that mean the death of someone else?"
She hurried from Brann to Magnus, jogging at his side as he strode to the execution place. Oddvar stumbled in front of them. She allowed herself no time to consider the consequences of her next words. "My lord, you would have a life for your son's. Must it be my father's? Instead of taking a life in payment, could you not be given one instead?"
Magnus stopped and stared at her, shaking his head. "Do you mean I should make your father my property, my slave? That would not avenge Thor." He made to leave, but she caught his arm and held tight to his sleeve.
"Not him... me."
An indolent gaze slipped over her bosom past her waist to pause on her curving hips before meeting her gaze once more. Magnus stared at her through hooded eyes, the nostrils of his straight aristocratic nose flaring as he moved closer to her. Tora forced herself not to move. He didn't touch her, but stood face to face so near that she felt his heat and smelled his raw masculine scent. "You want me to take you instead of your father, to be my slave... or my whore?"
The crowd had gathered around them, and at these words waves of discussion broke out.
"No!" cried Oddvar. "Tora, stay out of this." He turned to the council. "Brann, my daughter is innocent of my sin! You must not listen to her. Do not let her sacrifice herself for my sake." He shook himself loose from his captors and shuffled over to Brann. "Would you make a whore of my unsullied daughter? Her life would be ruined. No one would take her to wife if you allow such a thing to occur!"
"Calm yourself, Oddvar." Brann said. "I could not allow this. As you say, 'twould be wrong of any man to make a woman whore."
"This whole discussion is foolish," Magnus bit out. "I do not want the woman. My grievance is with her father."
Tora thrust herself between the three men, her impatience as they ignored her growing leaps and bounds. "I do not speak of slavery or whoring." She thrust her chin in the air and turned to Magnus. "Lord Ringebu if you would allow me to speak to you in private..."
"No, Bryn!" Oddvar said. "I demand you remain here."
Magnus looked at Oddvar a moment, then caught Tora by the arm and hauled her away from the others. He bent over her, peering intently into her face. "Speak your piece. I want your father dead before midday."
Tora swallowed her ire and kept her balled fists at her sides. She spoke through gritted teeth. "You demand one life for another. I propose to give you a son in Thor's place. A son of your own, if you will let my father live."
Copyright ©2001 by Judith Lynn