Such a commotion and scramble as men grabbed weapons and women screamed. Poppa was frozen not knowing which way to go since she could see people running every which way. Some dove into a wagon full of hay, while others turned the wagon over for a barrier dumping the fearful out of hiding. The brilliant sun was shining on the armor of the oncoming enemy who seemed huge as they approached thundering at a fast pace yelling like wild demons. Poppa was trembling uncontrollably and could not move away from her spot as the terrible scene unfolded below her balcony of hand to hand combat with axes, swords, and clubs and bows and arrows. Her people, the ones who had surrounded her life to make it one of ease, were no match for this giant enemy. The young leader, taller and fiercer than the rest looked up from where he stood in the pools of blood and caught her wide-eyed gaze. With horror she realized he was smiling at her.
There was no where to go, for the manor was swarming with the invaders. She heard Berenger the Count Bayeux shout and his wife scream then the clashing of swords ceased. Only one set of heavy footsteps was pounding up the stairs. Poppa was suddenly in a tall shadow and turned to look up into his grinning face. Before she could take a breath, the Viking threw her over his shoulder and scrambled with her down the stairs as if she were a sack of potatoes. He ran past where the Countess' body was laying over her murdered husband and out into the carnage of the courtyard. Once there, he gave a great shout of victory. His men answered in a roar. The girl wished she could die, for everyone she loved and cared for had bled to death in her defense. Poppa only fainted.
The next thing she knew she woke up in the Count's bed with her hands and feet bound. The Viking was laying next to her snoring loudly in the exhaustion of victory, his arm thrown across her like a beam. Poppa did not dare move but wept silently until she could not stop the wrenching sobs that woke him.
"Shh, shh, don't cry," he spoke in broken dialect, propping himself up to stare into her face. "I just bound you so you would not run away while I slept. Don't worry, I will not harm you."
"You have done it already, robbing me of my home, friends and servants. You are a murderer."
The Viking looked startled at this outburst. "It is war. We are the conquerors and yours were the vanquished. For as much pain as this has cost you, I want to make it up to you as my bride. I can give you much more for I will be the Marquis of Normandy. Even King Charles of France will have to respect me."
"Never. I would rather die than marry you!" Poppa cried beating her bound fists against his chest.
He only laughed and caught them in one hand. She felt his strength.
"Ahh, if only your people had all been as fierce as you, perhaps the contest of the battle would not have been such a slaughter of weaklings. I will give you time. Perhaps such passion can be turned in my favor one day, no?"
Poppa rolled to her side so as not to look at his gleeful face only to be felt pulled to his side. A knife of fear pierced her, but only a gentle kiss was brushed on her neck before he fell asleep again with his deep breathing calming her from a panic. As much as she fought it, sleep bound her in its healing embrace.
He was gone when she awoke. She found her feet loosed, though her hands were still tightly wrapped. She went out to the balcony to look and was amazed. The enemy had cleaned the bloodbath and fresh hay hid the stain. It looked much like before the attack except now tall Danes, men of the North, the savage mix of Norweigans, Swedes, and Danish were everywhere working. The pain threatened to burst her heart knowing her people were no more but buried in the freshly dug mass grave outside the gate. This was in contrast to the baudy laughter of the men below. Poppa could see that some of the women had been spared, like her, and were being bounced from man to man as if a game. She wanted to scream. Once again she was in his shadow. She did not even know his name, like it mattered.
As if he could read her thoughts, he said, "My name is Rollo Ragnvaldsson, the Norseman. You are the fair daughter of Bayeux, but what is your name?"
She did not turn or answer him.
"Tell me your name unless you wish for me to rename you."
"Poppa," she whispered.
Again, his laugh. "Poppa, of course. It fits. He spun her around. You are tall though still small like a doll next to me. I like it."
"I am not the daughter of the Count of Bayeux. I am the daughter of Gui, Count of Senis. I was under the Count of Bayeux's protection."
"Oh, I knew of your father. So you are the great, granddaughter of the King of Italy and thus of the lineage of Charlemagne himself!"
She curtsied as best she could. Then she looked up at her captor and asked, "Are you the Walker?"
His smile was gone and a fierce gleam was in his eye. "I said I am Rollo a Norseman, soon to be the Marquis of Normandy. You will never call me that again. Men have died for less."
Poppa met his glare and nodded though keeping her chin up in defiance. She knew he had been called Walker because he was so tall that he looked gangly riding the small Norweigan ponies with his feet hanging down as if he was walking while riding. He was legend. She also knew he had been banned from Norway having caused depredations against the king's orders. His name was always spoken of with fear.
His ready smile came back and he ran his finger along her jawline and over her lips. "Poppa. You are very beautiful. I am a fortunate man."
"I am a Christian."
Again he laughed, "And you think Vikings are not? Some have became Christians. Your Jesus was a man of peace, but even his David was a man of war. Perhaps I will consider converting if King Charles insists. Though I am not a Christian, I am a patient man and will give you time, a little time, to get used to the idea of becoming my wife. I want you to love me, not war with me. Just because I have to be fierce in battle, that is not what I want in my heart and home."
Poppa only stared at him noticing his tanned, strong face, tangled blond hair and sea blue eyes which now looked seriously into hers. He was the tallest man she had ever seen. She took a shuddering deep breath before she could look away knowing everything was going to be different from now on. She was no longer a child, but had become a woman, a woman to be married. This Rollo would be her only family from now on. She could fight him or try to respect him for any kindness he showed her. Her heart would have to follow on its own. His touch was gentle on her hair as he gathered it in his hands and lifted it where the breeze cooled her heat before he once again brushed a kiss upon the back of her neck. From where she could see below, the other women were being treated roughly, the men like animals. Perhaps, she should be thankful for this man, who was the fiercest of them all and perhaps the most gentle.
"I would like a Christian burial for my people."
"I will find a priest if that will bring you comfort."
Again, Poppa nodded as tears filled her eyes. "Thank you." She could not hold back the tears.
This time he kissed her forehead and embraced her as if to console her.
She wept while he held her not releasing her until she was spent.
It was a strange kindness from the leader of those who took the lives of her loved ones by sword.
When she was done he held her hands and saw where the bindings chaffed. "Do I have your promise, that you will not try to escape if I do this for you, the service for your people?"
"I give you my word."
Rollo carefully cut the cuffs with his sharp knife now wiped clean of the blood it spilled yesterday. She felt a grateful release. He took her wrists in his hands tenderly turning them to see where they were wounded by the cords. His thumb caressed her bruises and scrapes softly and said, "Do you have any ointment to help these heal. I'm sorry You were bound so tightly. I did not mean to injure you, but you fought me even in your sleep."
Poppa could only nod as she searched his face finding only true concern in his handsome visage. She allowed a smile to escape. She tried to convince herself that it was only relief, but his gentleness soothed her fears, and she felt released from these as well. She could not help noticing he looked as pleased as a little boy eager to gain his mother's approval when she smiled. He laughed. She laughed with him, with relief of course. The beast picked her up as if she were light as a feather and twirled her around, His happiness was as unbounded as a Great Dane's. Poppa choked back a scream making it sound more like a squeal. When he put her down he whispered in her ear in a more serious tone, "Good day, the future Countess of Normandy." He bowed and left.
Poppa shook her head. The man was a tempest with hurricane force whether in battle or in joy. Rollo would be difficult to conquer, but with love, anything could be possible.
The day she turned from his kiss on her neck to meet his lips, passion was kindled. They were married Danish style though she longed for a Christian ceremony. She was his "frills." Then he was off to show his force to King Charles to subdue him into acceptance of his Norman rule of the North of France, Normandy.
Upon his return he was the one subdued though his men were boisterous in their bragging. He lifted his cup to their honor, but drank little. He left early for bed. Poppa followed where she found him staring seriously at he ceiling.
"Why are you not rejoicing with your men?"
"I don't think you want to know."
"It sounds as though you found exactly the success you sought in the King's eyes."
"I got more than I bargained for."
"What do you mean?"
He told her of the pledge he made to serve the king.
"He wanted me to kiss his foot."
"What? No, you didn't, did you?"
"Of course I didn't." Then he laughed finally bringing Poppa relief. "I told one of my warriors to do it. He too refused until I forced him. Not wanting to kneel, he lifted the short king's foot to his lips and the king fell backwards upsetting his throne and all."
They both shrieked with laughter. Finally Poppa asked, "Were you afraid of what the king might do for such an offense?"
"He did not dare. He is half afraid of me though I have sworn loyalty." Then his face lost all joy.
"What is it? Why are you so sad?"
"I don't want to tell you." He sighed, but I must for you will hear it talked of anyway. "He gave me the hand of his daughter to seal the pact."
"What?" Terror seized Poppa and she climbed away from him in the bed.
Rollo reached out and pulled her to him gently. "Shh, don't worry my little Poppa. You have my love, my only love. I will be married to her in name only. She is in ill health. I may have to renounce you to the world, before the king, but when I am able, we will be married in a Christian ceremony. I have converted. This marriage is not what I want, but it is the cost of peace. Can you trust me and be patient with your husband?"
Poppa was crying silent tears unable to speak at first. Then she told him the news she had hoped would bring them both great joy. "Your child will be born with you bound to another." She fell to weeping as he held her. She did not see the tears on his cheeks until he released her. She gently wiped them away. "I trust you and will be as patient with you as you were with me. I love you, my Rollo."
"I love you Poppa, my true wife."
When the time came, Rollo married Poppa in a Christian ceremony and they ruled side by side, the first rulers of Normandy.