Inga expected to be summoned after only a few moments, but she had to wait a little longer before Hargotrix was ready to receive her. Every moment, she expected Ishild to come to and ruin her little scheme. She was thus very relieved when a scowling Egestinus returned to usher her out of the anteroom.
Entering the royal chamber to meet Hargotrix for the first time, she was surprised to find that he was not the tall, impressive warrior she had envisaged. Indeed, he looked utterly unremarkable, which made her more wary than ever; because, if this man had not achieved his status by raw, physical power then he must have done so by stealth, or guile. Hargotrix might be harder to outwit than she thought; nor did he seem in a very welcoming frame of mind. She assumed that Egestinus had broken the disappointing news that there would only be one Saxon for his pleasure rather than two.
In the few, short moments it took her to cross the room, he grumbled: “Is this it?”
“She claims to be very experienced,” said Egestinus, echoing Inga’s boast.
“Experienced?” cried, Hargotrix, aghast. “I am a master of experience myself, you fool! If I wanted experience, I could have visited my own wife! What you promised me was something different – not one scrawny, scar-faced, Saxon whore, but two fresh young girls! And I want what I was promised!”
“Well, there’s only me,” said Inga. “I came here alone.”
“Be quiet, slave! I was speaking to Egestinus!” snapped Hargotrix. “Go and fetch the other one, man – and drag her in here if you must.”
“My lord king,” cried Inga, throwing herself at the king’s feet. “I will make you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt before; I will give you greater pleasure than-”
“Whores don’t give me anything,” interrupted Hargotrix, “I take pleasure where and how I will!”
“I can-” began Inga, but Hargotrix sprang up from his seat to glower over her.
“You can be still!” he ordered. “And I don’t wonder that your face bears so many marks upon it when you don’t seem to know when to remain silent. Egestinus! Get the other one – or do I no longer rule here?”
Egestinus scurried away to the anteroom while Inga braced herself to witness her young friend being hauled in alongside her. If she had just let events unfold, at least she might have avoided angering the king – now she had just made matters worse. A few moments passed, when the only sound in the chamber was the king tapping his impatient foot upon the shallow, wooden dais that bore his chair. The longer she waited, the more Inga conjured up scenes of Egestinus reviving poor Ishild, perhaps beating her – and the whoremaster, she feared, would not be gentle.
But when he did return, Egestinus approached the king, ashen-faced, and without Ishild.
“Well?” demanded Hargotrix.
“She’s not to be found, lord king,” replied Egestinus. “She’s just… vanished!”
“Vanished?” said Hargotrix, upper lip twitching with annoyance. “Perhaps the slave spoke the truth after all and she was never here to start with – did you offer me more than you could procure, Egestinus?”
“No, lord, I’d never presume to do so,” protested Egestinus. “There were two of them; but one must have pretended to faint. If I am at fault then it’s because I’m a fool, not a liar!”
Hargotrix frowned. “That’s true enough,” he conceded. “So, go away and find that girl. I want to see her by the time I’ve finished with this one – unless the other is just ruinous to look at.”
“No, lord king, she’s a rare beauty.”
“Well, find that runaway beauty then, or prepare to lose your hide!” cried Hargotrix, as he slumped back down onto his seat.
Turning his attention back to Inga, who still lay sprawled headlong on the floor at his feet, he told her to come closer.
Inga realised that there was no need now to wait for the best opportunity to strike; the sooner she made her move, the more it would distract attention from the fleeing Ishild. Scouring the chamber for weapons she might use, her eye lighted upon the long knife Hargotrix wore at his belt. Even so, he was flanked by two bodyguards, armed with spears and spathas. Only one, remote possibility seemed to offer itself: she would have to get close enough to the king to slide out his knife and ram it into his breast.
Was Hargotrix quick enough to stop her? She was unsure but, if his guards were alert, she would be impaled upon a spear before she could even make the thrust. If they were half asleep though, she had a slim chance – not a chance of survival, but certainly one of a successful kill. She was ready for it too – spurred on by the possibility at least that Ishild might have escaped.
With a weary sigh, the king said: “Alright, Saxon harlot, while we’re waiting for your companion, let’s see what you have to offer.”
Stretching up her arms, Inga placed her hands upon the seated king’s knees. Then, lifting her head, she arched her back to thrust her barely-covered breast closer to him to whet his appetite. As she did so, the flimsy covering of silk fell away and Hargotrix, despite his churlish mood, gasped in delight.
“My face might be scarred, lord king,” murmured Inga, “but my poor body still holds a few charms, as you can see.”
“I can see two of your charms,” replied Hargotrix, “Pray, show me the rest.”
“Why don’t you reveal them with your own strong hands,” sighed Inga, easing her body between his legs to move within inches of him.
Hargotrix caressed the soft skin of her breasts, before sliding his hands down to her waist.
“Take your time,” she whispered, leaning her upper body into him. “Slow is better in almost everything.”
Except of course, when it came to striking down a man who just might have enough strength to thwart you; then speed was all…
As Hargotrix tore away her final item of clothing, Inga lunged with her right hand to grasp the hilt of his knife.