He was the tallest man I'd ever seen outside a basketball game, yet his body was nothing like a professional athlete's. His neck and
shoulders were massive, his biceps thicker than my thighs, and his own thighs were like glistening tree trunks. I saw all of this, and all
the glistening, because he was garbed in nothing but fur pelts. His bare skin was shiny with sweat and the spatters of what I didn't
recognize as blood.
I'd stepped out of my car laughing. I stopped when I realized the stag slung over the man's shoulder was alive--or had been until just
recently. Its antlers bowed over his broad chest, its eye closed in death.
I dropped my purse when the man called out to me. His voice was as frosty as a glacier and as rugged as the calluses in his palms.
"Greetings, Jenny Templeton," he boomed. "I am Torhild, son of Folcwald, strangler of the serpent's spawn and bane of Jörmungandr."
"Uh?" I said. I stared into the man's ice blue eyes. They were heralds of winter in the warm fall evening. His hair, too, had a wintry cast,
a pale blonde that was more snow than gold. The hair was thick and flowed over his shoulders, some of it wrapped up into long, complicated
braids. His face was beardless, though a reddish stubble gleamed on his cheeks and chin.
His eyebrows, thick and even whiter than his hair, rose high on his tan forehead. "You are Jenny Templeton?" he asked.
"Um, yeah," I said. I shouldered my purse and tried to remember if mace had an expiration date, and if I was even carrying my mace, and if
mace could stop a hulking hunk that strangled serpents' spawn.
Torhild nodded. "Then we are well met," he said. "You are a most comely maiden."
Why was I blushing for this psychopath on my doorstep? I swiped a lock of hair behind my ear and shook my head. "Well, uh, joke's on you,
buddy, because I'm not a maiden." I glanced quickly to my left and right. Where the hell did he come from? Could I outrun him? He'd
apparently outrun a deer, so probably not.
Torhild let rip a mighty laugh that threatened to rock my car windows out of their sockets. "Aha!" he snorted. "Tis good, Jenny. I've little
patience for blushing virgins. Green kindling yields little warmth."
"Oh, okay, so that's where this is going," I muttered. "Just stay back or I'll scream. You can't attack me in broad daylight."
He smiled at me from beneath his snowy eyebrows. "I've no intention of ravishing thee, Jenny." He hefted the deer on his shoulder. "As a
token of my troth, I've hunted the swiftest stag in this land. For five days he led me through the woods of Fairfield, Litchfield, and
Hartford, where I at last slew him within a stone's throw of Tolland. He died honorably and shall make a fine feast."
I stared at the man, my mouth agape.
"Or perhaps you are a vegetarian?" he asked.