Sigtrygg is almost sleeping in my lap during the náttmál and I excuse myself to put him to bed.
“Sigtrygg is tired.” I whisper to Ivar.
“I'll help you. He is heavier now.” Ivar smiles, looking at our boy, whose head is resting against my shoulder.
“I'll be a giant like you, Fađir .” His sleeping voice is followed by a yawn.
I chuckle at his innocence. We are giants in his eyes. Little he knows that we have fears of our own and sometimes feel helpless.
“Come closer and give me a kiss!” Ivar mumbles to Sigtrygg.
I lean forward and Sigtrygg wraps his arms around his father's neck, kissing his cheek, “Now kiss modir, fadir!” Sigtrygg’s voice is as commanding as a kid can be and I try not to laugh that he is ordering Ivar.
I swallow, glancing at Ivar. His face is so close to mine that I can feel his hot breath against my skin. It's like I can taste the mead from his lips. I'm mortified that I feel blood rushing to my cheeks as easily as if I were still a maiden. Ivar is analyzing my features and I know he wants my permission. I'm blinking and pressing my lips together as every intake of air sets my lungs on fire.
Will Ivar want more if I allow him to kiss me? Am I prepared to offer more if he requires?
I realize that I want to test myself. Ivar is still looking at me, but his eyes are sad now as if he lost hope. I tilt my head in compliance and the smile that appears on his face warms my heart. I close my eyes waiting for him to possess my mouth, gasping in surprise when his soft lips touch my temple instead. This innocent touch is an awakening from memories registered in my body, both pleasant and painful. I suppose it will be always like this. Our story is not simple.
He pulls out and I'm shocked to discover that I'm already missing his warmth. In his eyes I see the uncertainty of a different man. I rise to my feet quickly and when I put Sigtrygg in his bed, he is already sound asleep. I kiss his forehead and walk to our chamber.
I find Ivar sitting on the bed and waiting for me.
“We need to talk!” his voice is steady and calm, but my heart starts beating fast.
I sit by his side, folding my hands in my lap and looking down at my own shaking fingers. I just can't handle Ivar's stare at the moment. I want to try and gain some composure.
“Do you hate me?” His question seems so absurd that I look up at him immediately.
“I don't.” I was never so sure about something in my life.
He keeps proving himself a better man, one that doesn't deserve hatred or disgust. He is worth loving, but I don't dare to say it. Even though he is still looking at me waiting for more. When he notices I'm not saying anything else, Ivar tilts his head.
“Good.” I can see a little smile on his lips and I'm relieved it seems enough for him. For now.
In the morning I'm working on the loan while Sigtrygg is playing with Nanna, our cat. Only recently I discovered that Norsemen give cats to their future wives as a symbol of Freya. The thought of Ivar considering me his wife is not totally reassuring. I worry about my son's position. His inheritance can only be assured depending on my status in Ivar's life.
Am I a slave? A concubine? What am I to Ivar and his people? And more important - how does my situation affect Sigtrygg’s future?
I don't know how to bring the subject to Ivar, and my mind remains clouded for a few days. During one of his counsels, a case brought to his attention is my final push.
“He never married her. When he died, I dare to say she was not even a concubine.” The woman is yelling, and I can see a vein in Ivar's neck pulsing.
“You're in my hall, woman. If someone is to speak loud here, it is not you.” his tone is low, but he is clearly infuriated. It seems Ivar's fury is only clear to me, because the woman keeps her voice annoyingly loud.
“I want this woman out of my house and that she carries her bastard children with her.” Her face is a mask of hatred. Her lips are curling while she speaks, and her head is held high.
Sigtrygg is scared and on the verge of tears. Ivar notices our son hiding his face into the crook of my neck.
“It seems you're a scorned woman. Not being able to give your husband children, you resent the woman that could do this.” Ivar is tapping the arm of his chair and as his words keep flowing, he leans forward looking straight in her eyes, “It's not a surprise the Gods haven't blessed you with children. Look how you're scaring my son.” Ivar points to us.
On her face I notice a disdainful grimace, while her eyes are accusing me of something I don't even know what. I tighten my arms around my son, kissing his hair. I can only imagine what kind of terror the other woman suffered by her hands.
I look at Ivar and I can tell he noticed the woman's disapproval of our situation.
“Do you have a problem with my family?” Ivar arches his eyebrows while his lips are twisted in a half smile. If I were her, I would choose my words carefully.
“Oh no! Your...” she looks at me from head to toe, “family is adorable.” Sigtrygg looks at her and she smiles at him. I can say it is the smile of a predator. It’s been a long time since I considered killing, but for the first time I want to bath in her blood.
“What you require of me is that I kill children and women. What kind of man do you think I am?” Ivar tilts his head, baring his teeth to speak.
“I don't want you to kill them. It's just that I'm sure this woman poisoned my husband against me. Maybe even practiced seidr preventing me from conceiving.” She hisses, and I felt like I’m watching a snake.
“You’re asking me to kill them. What do you think it will happen to them when the Winter comes, and they don’t have a roof above their heads?” Ivar reasons with her with a patience that never ceases to surprise me.
“She is lying, King Ivar. I would never harm anyone and when Sihtric brought me home, they were married for eight years and she has never been with child all this time. He told me.” The woman is crying and holding a baby girl against her chest while her eldest son is holding the hand of another boy that looks a little older than Sigtrygg.
“LIES!” I can see the woman is losing control. Her face is flushed and her hands are forming fists.
“Sihtric wanted to divorce Elisif to marry me, but she begged, and I felt sorry for her. It's not a woman's fault when a couple can't have children.” She looks at her children, “if I knew she wouldn't show me the same mercy...” the woman is shaking with sobs and I want to go to her.
Ivar looks at me and back at them. I wonder what he is thinking, and more than never, I need to know. It would be me in that woman's situation. One day it might be my son being publicly humiliated. I would kill myself before allowing my son to endure the shame.
“Is anyone here able to attest what these women are saying?” Ivar shouts to the crowd.
“I can.” A man stands up.
“Go ahead!” Ivar encourages him with a motion of his hand.
“My name is Egil. I've been friends with Sihtric since we were children. I know he wanted to divorce his wife when he noticed it was not his fault they couldn't have children.” Elisif’s eyes are burning with loathing, “He didn't divorce her out of pity. What she is trying to do to Hild is shameful. The Gods wouldn't approve.”
Ivar smiles, “I can make my decision now,” he looks at them, tilting his head, “the children and their mother are to stay under Sihtric’s roof. He protected them in life and his children have the right of half his fortune.”
“SHAME! I came here seeking justice, but it seems I came to the wrong place.” She laughs bitterly.
“You're offending my honor. I advise you to stop it. If you can't live among your late husband's family, I advise you to take your share of what he left and go away.” Ivar suggests as his nostrils are flaring, and I fear he will spill blood in front of Sigtrygg.
“That's exactly what I'll do. I can't look at those bastards nor their whore of a mother.” She looks at Hild from head to toe with her eyebrows furrowed, then walks away, bumping into everyone standing in her way.
I can't sleep. After the case brought to Ivar, I feel powerless once more. If he marries and have children with another woman, my son will be in risk. I can't bear the thought of my Sigtrygg living in poverty and need because of me. Or worse - I push away the images of my son as a slave aside.
Ivar's breathing is steady. I turn around to look at him, being surprised he is still awake.
“What is wrong? Why can't you sleep?” his eyes are soft and I feel he really care.
“I'm worried about Sigtrygg.” I confess, unable to look at him.
“Are you worried about his future?” I feel his warm hand holding my chin to look at him.
I can only nod feeling a knot in my throat.
“I won't marry...” his fingers are tracing the line of my jaw and I feel I'm trembling, “another woman.” Ivar is looking at my mouth and pressing his lips together.
“But... I'm your slave. What makes Sigtrygg a slave as well...” my voice is cracking with the thought of my son enduring slavery.
“Moyra!” I'm still getting used to my name leaving his plump lips. He pauses, searching for my eyes, “you're not my slave...” his voice is husky while Ivar is using his fingers to play with a strand of my hair.
“What am I?” my question surprises him, “What am I to you?” I hold his hand to remove any distraction his touch can represent.
He is looking right into my soul, “What do you want to be?” he is licking his lower lip what I know he does when he is nervous.
“I don't know. I-I...” my eyes are averting from his lips to his eyes.
“I need to know what you want. Do you want to be my wife?” his tone is stoical.
My jaw drops listening to his words. I don't know if I'm ready to be his wife, but I would do anything to secure my child's position.
“Can you forgive and marry me?” he is not talking about our son, he is talking about us and the things that have been tearing us apart.
“I forgave you a long time ago. I just don't know if... if I can be a proper wife to you. I don't feel ready to...” my hands are shaking, and my mind is clouded with thoughts. I want to shut down my worries and see the new man in front of me.
“You would be a proper wife to any lucky man. I won't pressure you to love me. If you don't want me, Sigtrygg’s position won't be in risk. I just want you to know that I'll wait.” I feel truth in his words, and the promise brings tears to my eyes.
Ivar uses his thumb to wipe away my tears, “Can I hold you?”
I nod and wait for him to pull me closer, he draws his body closer to mine instead. I lay my head on his chest, embracing his waist. I can feel he is inhaling the smell of my hair. His heartbeat is like a lullaby and I fall asleep easily. I'm so surprised that we can lay holding each other without Ivar trying to force me. Knowing that he doesn't want my body closer to him only for pleasure is satisfying.