When Egestinus ushered them into a tiny anteroom, Inga could hear, close by, the laughter and drunken shouting coming from Hargotrix’s chamber. How many times had she heard such raucous banter from the bucellarii in Ambrosius’ camp? One cluster of warriors, she supposed, sounded much like another; but, among Dux’s hardened soldiers, she had somehow managed to carve out a place of for herself. How she implored the goddess, Frigg that she might, once again, be part of that fellowship.
“Here you will prepare yourselves to entertain the king,” announced Egestinus. “First, you must be searched, for I have a keen, personal interest in ensuring that no harm comes to the king. Remove all those Saxon rags – there are more… appropriate clothes for you here which will better please the king.”
“Are you going to watch us undress then?” grumbled Inga.
“I most certainly am,” replied Egestinus. “Do you seriously think I’d allow two heathen Saxons to get that close to the king without checking for myself that they have nothing concealed?”
“Our weapons have already been taken,” complained Ishild.
“You might have anything… secreted about your bodies – a phial of poison perhaps.”
So, having slipped off their clothing, they were forced to stand there while they were poked and explored by the sly fingers of Egestinus which, Inga promised herself, she would sever at the very earliest opportunity. Yet, whatever she might plot to do to him in the future, did not diminish the utter humiliation of the inspection. She had half-expected it and forewarned Ishild; thus her impulsive, young companion met the indignity with a steely resolve.
“By Christ!” squealed Egestinus, “I hope you two are going to smile a bit more for Hargotrix, or the entertainment will turn bloody, I can promise you that!”
“We’re not working yet,” said Inga. “A smile from one of us would cost you a fortune, whoremaster.”
“And that jibe will cost you some skin off your back, once our king has finished with you!” snarled Egestinus. “I get the pick of the leavings from his feast.”
“I’ll look forward to it,” retorted Inga, because a woman who had fought off wolves and lived, had no need to fear a mere dog…
As he walked out, he told them: “You can get dressed now.”
More laughter spilled from the adjacent room and Inga wondered whether they would have to entertain the king while others looked on. Well, she had to admit, it wouldn’t be the first time – though she thought she had left that life far behind her. Eyeing the heap of silks on the bench – the room’s only item of furniture – she picked up several items, wrinkling her nose in disgust. All were soiled – some with quite obvious bloodstains – and no item would cover much of her body, which presumably was the intention.
As the two young women slowly helped each other dress, Inga began to worry about how much this evening would demand of Ishild. In her former life, Inga had been obliged to act out all manner of men’s bestial desires, but was Ishild equipped for such work? They would have to let the evening play out for as long as it took for a chance to arise – that single, unguarded moment when they might strike. But by then, they would have endured much – and, of course, even if they took their chance, they would almost certainly never leave the room alive… and Ishild was still so young.
She stared at her young companion who grinned nervously back at her, so perhaps Ishild knew enough about what was coming. “Are you ready, my dear,” asked Inga, as she embraced her one last time.
“I’m ready for whatever the night brings,” declared Ishild, giving her a solemn nod.
Inga smiled. “Good – because you’ll need to be,” she told her. “When you wake up, find Ferox for me…”
By the time Ishild understood what Inga intended, the latter was cracking her head against the timber door post. Inga had only just laid Ishild down onto the floor when Egestinus returned.
“What’s up with her?” he cried, at the sight of Ishild’s prostrate body.
“She suddenly came over all faint,” said Inga. ”So, it’ll have to be just me.”
Egestinus frowned. “Just you? It can’t be just you! He’ll blame me,” he cried. “He was promised two, not one!”
“But I’m very, very experienced at giving pleasure, I assure you,” said Inga, moving closer to stroke her fingers along his thigh. “Your king will have an evening to remember. That, I promise you!”