Rain beat down on Thorstein as he rowed near the stern of the longship. His cousin Herjulf yelled, “The woman jumped overboard!”
Adrenaline shot through Thorstein, knowing the only female on board was the pretty little noblewoman he’d kidnapped. He sprang to his feet and scanned the churning water for her. Finally he caught sight of her swimming toward shore. He knew she’d never make it in such rough water. A large wave broke over her and she disappeared beneath its dark surface. Thorstein held his breath, waiting to see if she’d resurface.
“Bad luck, Thorstein. She was a rare beauty,” Herjulf said, shoving a lock of red hair off his forehead.
The woman’s head reappeared. Thorstein unbuckled his sword belt and dropped it to the floor.
“It’s too dangerous to go after her!” Herjulf exclaimed.
“She’ll drown if I don’t.” Thorstein threw off his cape, armor, jerkin and shirt.
“You’ll drown if you do.”
“I don’t fear death.” Thorstein removed his boots and stepped onto his trunk.
Herjulf grabbed his arm. “The woman is nothing to you.”
“She belongs to me.” Thorstein jerked his arm free and dove, slicing through the waves. The cold water instantly chilled him. He swam to the surface with powerful, steady strokes and drew a breath before looking for the woman. He spotted her treading water.
Thorstein began moving toward her, propelling easily through the water with muscles hardened from rowing and farm work. The violence of the waves hindered his progress and he realized the woman might drown before he reached her. He swam with strong strokes, pushing himself beyond his normal endurance.
Thorstein raised his head to be sure he was still on course, but didn’t see her. He treaded water, twisting his head from side to side. The rain fell in sheets, nearly blinding him. At last, he located her dark head bobbing up and down on the waves.
Lightning zigzagged across the water and thunder boomed like a series of rolling drumbeats. The god Thor must be angry to send such a storm, he thought. What have we done to cause such offense?
Thorstein began swimming again. Soon his arms and legs screamed in pain and he feared they’d cramp up in the freezing water. He wanted to stop and rest, but didn’t dare. The woman couldn’t last much longer.
“Svima!” he yelled to her. Remembering she didn’t understand Norse, he shouted, “Swim!” His voice was caught by the wind and tossed away. He’d almost reached her when she sank beneath the water and didn’t resurface.
Thor’s Hammer! I’ll not lose her! Thorstein drew a deep breath and dove under, entering the world of the river. He no longer felt the rain pounding on him or heard the roaring wind. He kept his eyes open, but saw only churning water around him.
Swimming deeper, he peered through the dark water and spotted her hair fanned out around her head like seaweed. He dove down, grabbed her tresses and swam up, breaking the surface as he pulled the woman after him. He slid his arm under her chin to keep her nose and mouth out of the water.
She drew in a breath and began coughing and spitting up water. She kept choking up water until he thought she’d spewed out half the river, then she collapsed limply against him.
Now that Thorstein wasn’t moving, he began to shake with cold. He treaded water, too worn out to do more than just keep them both afloat. The river felt as if talons were pulling them under. He kept one arm around her neck as she recovered from nearly drowning.
He looked around for the ship and spotted it a long way off moving swiftly toward them. He knew they’d come after him since he had two kinsmen and many neighbors and friends aboard the ship.
Thunder cracked loudly again, startling the frightened woman. She climbed on top of his head, pushing him underwater. He kicked back to the surface and tried to turn her in his arms. She fought him and he forcefully thrust her away, breaking her hold. He rolled her onto her back, put one arm under her chin and began swimming toward the ship.
The rain continued to beat down and large waves crashed over them from several directions. He realized he might die trying to save the girl. He redoubled his efforts, swimming as he fought a battle against the river. The water became the enemy—a force of furious, unlimited power.
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