Books by Kim M. Kimselius
The Viking Thrall
Released in 2004
Book 5 in the Theo and Ramona series
Text on the back cover of The Viking Thrall:
The storm was upon Theo and Ramona before they had a chance to react. Suddenly they were thrown into the water together with their dog Pluto.
Before Theo was dragged under water he saw something very odd: a big vessel with a square red sail with a dragonhead in black. Along the gunwale of the ship were round colourful shields with complicated patterns and in the prow he notices a malicious dragonhead. A Viking ship!
Theo and Ramona realise that the peaceful fishing trip has turned into something far more dangerous. They have once again travelled in time, back to the 1.000 th century and the time of the Vikings. Now a life-and-death struggle begins.
"With her first historical adventure book Back to Pompeii Kim M. Kimselius made an astounding debut and she has ever since thrilled readers of all ages with her breath-taking books full of historical details. In her books Kim mixes fact with fantasy in such an ingenious and captivating way that you can't stop reading. Kim's books thrill the reader for a couple of hours and give knowledge for life."
An independent historical adventure featuring Theo and Ramona.
What the reviewers had to say about The Viking Thrall:
”The story takes place in the age of the Vikings and is described by a distinct, knowing storyteller who weaves a trustworthy historical reality into the loom of fiction. The story is told with genuine warmth and the characters are described in a way that catches the reader.”
BTJ, publishers reader Thomas Storn.
“The author mixes historical facts with fantasy and fiction, creating a fascinating colourful and exciting weave. It is impossible to put the book down until the last threads have been woven together.”
BTJ, publishers reader Lars Rask.
"Kim Kimselius has a enticing way of writing and her stories may be read with great pleasure by both grown-ups and young people."
Commersen, Peter Enckell, editor in chief.
"The stories are so thrilling that it is hard to believe that they are based on historical facts."
Sydostran, Hakan Kjellgren.
"Kim Kimselius' books are of equal interest to all ages - therefore they are of unique quality."
BLT, Anders Haraldsson.
Excerpt from The Viking Thrall:
“Now, Ramona! Now it's our turn!” Theo whispered. “Get up on your feet, be prepared. You know what is coming. Set Pluto on the guards as soon as I'm out of the cage. 'Attack' is the command.”
“Why don't you tell him?” Ramona wondered, insecure whether she had the courage to give that command to Pluto.
“They expect me to do something, but not you, my little weak brother, seeming so unsure of life”, Theo said and smiled at Ramona, to soothe the harsh words.
A quick rage had risen inside of her, but it calmed down just as quick when she saw Theo's smile. He meant well. He wanted the Vikings to see her as small and weak, although they were trying to make her look big and strong. She wondered which was best for her. What roll did she want to play? Or did she want to be just Ramona and not the Viking boy Ram?
“Now! Stand up!” Theo whispered intense, when he realised Ramona was still sitting down on the ground looking hesitant. “UP!”
Ramona struggled to get up with Pluto's help. Why didn't Theo help her? He usually did. She looked at him. He stood there resolute and focused, staring out of the cage, his muscles tense, like ready for a jump. Ramona's breathing got short and panting. She was scared, so very scared, in spite of the fact she had both Theo and Pluto with her. She said a short prayer to her ancestors for help. She had learnt that when she was with the Inca Indians. And somewhere among these Vikings maybe there was an ancestor to her. Who knew if the woman over there was her great-great-great-great grandmother, or something like that, or the man next to her was her great-great-great-great grandfather. The thought calmed her down and her breathing turned normal. If any of these people were her relatives they couldn't be dangerous.
But it was a devious thought, because none of the people standing around her had any idea that Theo and Ramona came from the future and that they could be distant relatives. All they saw were new thralls, with little different clothes than the other thralls and people surrounding them, otherwise they didn't see anything different. Ramona wouldn't get any help from any of these Vikings, whatever she thought.
The man in charge of the thralls and the bidding, sent one of his men in Theo's and Ramona's direction to bring them out from the cage. Theo was prepared; he was vibrating from withheld energy. He more felt than saw that Ramona was standing there right behind him with Pluto by her side. He heard her short breath and understood that she also was ready and prepared. They would make it! The door was unlocked and opened and Theo took a leap out of the cage, at the same time screaming at the top of his voice:
Ramona opened her mouth to give Pluto the command, but not a sound passed over her lips. Instead she stared surprised at what was happening outside the cage and before she had come to her senses someone put a hand over her mouth. Pluto got a snare around his nose and another around his neck. And then everything was too late, much too late, before she had recovered from her surprise.
The first 5 chapters of The Viking Thrall:
The storm hit Theo and Ramona without previous warning. They were having a wonderful day at sea; peacefully fishing, watching land in the distance and cuddling Pluto the dog, who lay on the floor of the boat. The boat was gently rocking on the waves and they were talking about everything they had experienced together. None of them noticed that the waves had started to grow in length as well as in height. They did not see the bank of clouds that rapidly approached, growing darker in the sky. Theo and Ramona were so concentrated on their conversation and their fishing rods that they didn’t even notice that Pluto had become restless and whiny. Even if they had noticed they would probably have thought that the dog was fed up there in the small boat without anything to do.
Consequently, the torrent that suddenly hit them came as a total surprise. All of a sudden the sea seemed to boil by the lashing rain on the surface. The wind was getting up and it seized the small boat and the three passengers. The unpredictable thunderstorm tossed the boat to and fro among the waves.
Untrained as he was at rowing, Theo concentrated on trying to keep the oars in the rowlocks. The surroundings turned grey as the rain was pouring over them, and the wind was violently tearing at their clothes. The waves grew higher and more intense. More and more water rapidly filled the small boat.
Ramona lifted her eyes looking at Theo who was struggling with the oars. He gave her a quick glance and a strained smile before he concentrated on rowing again. Ramona looked down at the water that was rapidly rising at the bottom of the boat and the fear made her feel sick. What if the boat was going down? Ramona quickly grabbed the bailer and started to bail out the water.
Pluto was flat on his tummy in the water, whining. His long black fur was soaked, which made his quite big and heavy body seem thin and miserable when the fur plastered to his body.
Theo tried to mumble some comforting words to Pluto while trying to make the boat obey. But it was as if the dog didn’t listen and as if the boat itself was putting it up against him, because neither of them reacted in any way.
Ramona had the bailer in a firm grip and for a while she kept up against the water filling the boat. But suddenly the boat must have sprung a leak, because water was pouring in much faster.
Poor Pluto, Ramona thought, when she saw him shivering in the water. There is nothing I can do to comfort you. I wish you were small so I could take you in my arms and hold you. It would have felt better for both you and me. But you are so big and I must get the water out of the boat or we’ll drown. We might anyway, she thought.
Ramona watched the dark clouds and thought that it was strange that a storm could appear so quickly. Feeling uneasy she took a firm grip of the rail with one hand and continued bailing out water as quickly as she could with the other, but with no result. The waves came dashing into the boat, the rain helped filling it, and the leak now seemed to have grown bigger. The water was nearly up to their knees. Ramona fought an unequal battle against the weather. She kept pouring the water out, bailer after bailer, but in vain. “It has to work, I refuse to die here!” she desperately thought.
She let go of the rail. Quickly she found a mug in one of the side pockets of the backpack and used that too to bail the boat. Now both of her hands were busy. Pluto, lying there in the middle of the water, was in her way, but Ramona didn’t have the heart to ask him to move. Pluto looked as if he had dug his paws into the floor to stay put.
A sudden nausea overwhelmed Ramona.
“Theo! I feel weird and dizzy!” she said.
Theo gave her a frightened look. His first thought was not that she was seasick. His first thought was something much, much worse. As if they didn’t have enough problems anyway.
“Not now Ramona,” Theo said, though he very well knew she couldn’t help what was about to happen.
“What do you mean?” Ramona asked, suddenly feeling the dizziness grabbing new hold of her.
Her sight was blurred and the surroundings disappeared as she was overwhelmed by the dizziness.
“Theo!” Ramona gasped, when she too realised what was happening.
Quickly she reached out so she could touch both Pluto and Theo.
As quickly as the dizziness had appeared it disappeared again. Ramona looked at Theo with doubt in her eyes.
“Theo, do you think that has happened again?” Ramona anxiously asked. “I mean, that is what usually happens to us when I get like this.”
But Theo didn’t have the time to answer; his thoughts were suddenly busy with something else.
“NO!” he cried, when he felt a wave tearing one of the oars from his hand.
This made Ramona too forget what she had just experienced. It was probably just ordinary seasickness that had struck her for a minute, she thought. Ramona went on bailing the boat while watching Theo’s struggle to retrieve the oar.
Theo threw himself at the rail in an attempt to catch the oar, but the water was swirling away with it too fast. There was a loud thunder right above their heads. It was as if all evil powers had ganged up to make everything as hard as possible. Theo looked at Ramona who suddenly had stopped bailing and was looking at him in horror as the thunder was roaring over their heads. Her face was pale, her lips thin. She was scared. Theo had to admit to himself that he too was scared, very scared right now. He was responsible for Ramona and Pluto and he felt totally helpless. What could HE do?
The thunder was rumbling over them, the lightning lit up the dark clouds.
“I-I-t´-s v-v-ery d-d-dangerous to b-be out a-at s-sea d-during t-thunder,” Ramona stammered, realising they had to get away as soon as possible.
She forced herself back from her momentarily shocked state.
Again Ramona was holding the bailer and the mug in a firm grip trying to prevent the water from filling the boat. Suddenly she saw something that made her shiver with fear.
This can’t be true, Ramona thought. She wanted to scream a warning, but she was so scared that she couldn’t get a word over her lips.
“We’ll be all right,” Theo said consolingly, when he noticed Ramona’s fear, sounding more confident than he felt. “I can take turns with the oar, and row on first one side and then the other. Like paddling a canoe. We’ll survive!” Theo said, as much for his own sake as for hers.
He looked at Ramona and smiled reassuringly, but she just stared back with a distant look. Theo tried to catch her eyes and get a smile in return, but Ramona shook her head, slowly lifted her finger pointing at something behind him. Her face was as pale as a sheet. Theo turned around and saw an enormous wall of water approaching their tiny little boat. Quickly he pulled the remaining oar in. In an attempt to save it, he threw it at the bottom of the boat and put his foot on it. He stretched out one hand grabbing Pluto’s collar firmly, reaching for Ramona at the same time. At the moment their fingers touched, the wave hit them.
It felt as if a giant hand had grabbed the boat and turned it upside down.
Suddenly there was water everywhere. When they were thrown into the water Theo lost his hold of Pluto and Ramona. Their thick, warm jackets dragged them down into the depths.
Please Theo, take off your jacket and kick off your shoes, Ramona thought, while she disappeared beneath the surface because of the weight of her clothes.
At the last minute Ramona had managed to take a deep breath, yet it felt like her lungs were going to burst when the water gushed in over her and she was being dragged downwards.
Theo came up to the surface for a moment and before he was drawn down again he saw something strange. He saw a big ship, a ship with a red square-shaped sail with a black dragon on it. Round patterned colourful things were attached to the exterior of the ship. At the prow was a huge dragonhead and at the stern….
The water closed over Theo’s head and he couldn’t see anything else. He closed his eyes and realised he ought to take his clothes off. All of a sudden the jacket felt heavy as lead. It was a long way down to the bottom. He would never make it if he sank all the way down. Suddenly panic-stricken he struggled with the zipper of his jacket, but the next moment he bent down trying to untie the laces on his boots instead. They suddenly felt very heavy. His lungs were aching. He wanted to take a breath, but resisted his impulse, because he would drown if he did. Theo managed to get one boot off and struggled with the laces on the next one while sinking towards the bottom of the sea.
His thoughts kept returning to Pluto and Ramona: How were they? Surely dogs always managed at sea? But Pluto wasn’t very keen on swimming. Theo didn’t think he had ever seen Pluto taking a bath. Could he swim? What if he couldn’t? Theo intensified his struggle with the shoelace while he tried to kick his way back to the surface. How was Ramona? Where was she now? He fought with the wet lace and finally got rid of the last boot. Even though he was kicking as hard as he could, he continued to sink. Should he bother take his jacket off? He had to get to the surface as fast as possible to see what had happened to Pluto and Ramona!
Ramona had managed to get her jacket off. It floated off like a piece of a human being, rocking with its sleeves stretched out. My fine jacket, Ramona thought while tearing at the laces of her very expensive hiking boots, which she would rather not lose, but at the moment she didn’t have much choice. It was either the jacket and the boots, or her life, and that wasn’t a very tough choice.
I don’t want to die like this! Ramona thought and struggled to reach the surface. Her eyes were tightly shut. She didn’t want to see the infinity in front of her. The memory of how she had struggled in the waters outside Pompeii suddenly came back to her. That time heavy chains around her hands and feet had forced her down, after she had been kidnapped by a slave trader. Theo had rescued her at the last moment then. But this time he was in the same horrible situation as she was and couldn’t come to her rescue. She had to save Theo and Pluto! Otherwise her time trip to Pompeii that time, saving them, had been in vain. They mustn’t die now, not here! A sparkle of energy rose in her. The last boot fell off and Ramona kicked hard making her way to the surface. She used her legs, made some hard strokes with her arms and finally she burst through the surface with a loud snort. At the very same moment she opened her eyes searching for Theo, Pluto, the boat and their belongings. But the wind made the rain lash into her eyes, making it difficult to see anything at all.
Ramona felt her jeans being too heavy and trampled water while taking them off, then letting them disappear in the waves. Where were Theo and Pluto? Ramona looked around. She was startled when she caught a glimpse of something red on a crest of a wave. Was Theo wearing something red today? Ramona tried to swim towards it, but the waves took her where they wanted, not in the direction she had intended.
Suddenly a huge wooden wall appeared in front of her. A ship! Ramona thought, just before she was hit by the boat, and knocked unconscious.
His lungs felt like they were going to burst when Theo persistently kicked his way up to the surface. He had sunk much deeper than he had thought. It felt as if he wouldn’t make it. Only one thought kept him going: Ramona and Pluto! He must save Ramona and Pluto! Then another thought crossed his mind: The boat! He had seen another boat before he sank. Then there was a chance they would be saved. He nearly laughed from relief and suddenly got the strength he needed to kick extra hard and reach the surface.
There it was! The boat! At the prow was a huge evil-looking dragonhead. All around the railing were brightly coloured, frightening shields. On the red sail was an enormous black dragon, coiling over the width of the sail, its mouth wide open, ready to devour everything in its way. The ship was only a meter away from him. In spite of the howling of the wind, the rain lashing against the water and the thunder, Theo could hear voices from the ship.
“Hey, look what I found. A little drowned rat!”
Theo could see a man who bent over the rail and quickly picked a bundle up from the sea. The big man with his wild beard, long braided hair and muscular arms held Ramona in his hand as if she weighed nothing. She hung there lifeless in his grip.
Theo just lay there in the water staring at the frightening scene in front of him. The man had said drowned about Ramona. Was she dead? She looked dead. Was she drowned? If so, what was the meaning of keeping the fight up? But yet… maybe Ramona wasn’t dead. He didn’t want to leave her alone with those laughing, weird people bending over her. Besides, he had Pluto to live for.
“HERE! HELP! HERE I AM!” Theo yelled.
The men’s heads quickly turned his way. Theo shivered when he saw the crude men. He closed his eyes. It really felt nicer to stay here in the rough cold sea than being picked up to their ship, but now it was too late. Theo felt an arm around his waist. One of the men had jumped into the water with a rope around him. The man held Theo firmly while the other men hauled them in through the heavy sea.
Strong arms lifted Theo over the rail, gently putting him down. Theo sat up quickly and looked around. It was a strange ship. At both sides were holes for oars. There were chests in long rows all over the boat, from side to side. Between the chests, barrels and boxes were secured. And everywhere there seemed to be people staring at him with doubt in their eyes.
And there… there was Ramona. She was a lot paler than the last time he saw her in the rowboat and even then she had been as pale as a ghost. Now her face was a greyish blue. Was she alive? Theo tried to see if she was breathing, but couldn’t see her chest moving. There was no movement whatsoever from Ramona. Was she dead?
Theo went numb inside, what did he have left to live for if his happiness was dead? Because ever since they first met, Ramona had symbolised happiness for Theo.
Theo’s concern about Ramona was understandable, because they were almost like brother and sister, and yet much more. Theo lived with Ramona since the day she had rescued him from the volcanic eruption in Pompeii.
Ramona had travelled through time and arrived in the city before the eruption. She had met Theo there and she had tried to save all the citizens in the city, but nobody had believed her when she said that the mountain Vesuvius, towering in the distance, would destroy their whole city and kill all the inhabitants. Nobody except Theo.
He had not managed to convince his family to flee the city, but had escaped on his own with Pluto, the dog, and Ramona, and had thus ended up in Ramona’s time. Since then both Theo and Pluto lived with Ramona and her family.
But it wasn’t enough being transported in time once. They had been time travelling several times and had been touched by the wings of history. They had been thrown into the age of witch-hunts, where they had only just avoided being burnt at the stake. They had been thrown into dark prison cells in Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s Egypt, accused of murder. Theo and Ramona had also experienced one of the cruelest events in history, when the Spaniards conquered the Incas, devastating and murdering to lay their hands at as much gold as possible.
All their adventures had welded the two youngsters together. Sometimes they felt they could read each other’s minds. Between them was a bond, so strong that they sometimes were like one person. Even when they were separated they were together, in their thoughts and feelings. They were inseparable. And now it seemed as if they were thrown headlong into a new adventure.
“Ramona!” Theo screamed, fighting himself free from his rescuer and throwing himself down by her side.
She gave a weak moan and opened her eyes.
“You scared me…,” Theo said and suddenly his anxious face was all smiles, “…as usual.”
Ramona smiled back.
“Pluto!” Ramona whispered.
She took her eyes off Theo and looked at the man standing closest to them.
“Have you seen a dog?” she asked the man.
Without a word the man pointed towards the mast where a wet Pluto was tied down with a thick rope. He growled at everybody who came close to him, but the rope was too short for him to be able to harm any of the men. Even if the dog was tired his instinct told him to protect his master and mistress. He tried to reach the rope with his teeth, but he was so tightly tied to the mast, that no matter how he twisted and turned, he couldn’t reach the thick rope. Accepting his fate for the time being, Pluto lay down and studied the people around him. He would find a way.
A big relief filled Ramona when she saw Pluto and Theo. The three of them were together in safety. Well, she wasn’t sure about the safety. Where were they really? And in what century? Ramona looked around and could hardly believe her eyes when she discovered what it was she had around herself. They were on a Viking ship! They had been transported to the Viking Age! But to which year? The Viking Age did after all extend over a long period of years. From what she could remember from school it was from 750 to 1050 A.D. She also remembered reading that the Vikings weren't very peaceful, and now she and Theo were right among Vikings. Oh no, how terrible! She had to warn Theo.
“We are on a Viking ship!” Ramona quietly whispered.
“What does that mean?” Theo said in a low voice, but the expression on Ramona’s face had already told him it wasn’t good.
“To end up here is like having to choose between two evils: to drown or to be taken prisoner,” Ramona whispered.
“Is there no chance they are peaceful?” Theo whispered back.
“A very remote possibility,” Ramona quietly answered, after a second glance at the crude men around them.
“Oh, why did you have to travel in time right now?” Theo whispered.
“Theo! I can’t choose when I travel in time. You know that very well,” Ramona said.
“I’m sorry,” Theo regretfully answered.
He knew very well that the time travels just happened, and most of them at very inconvenient moments. The words had just slipped out of his mouth, before he had time to think them through. Of course Ramona couldn’t help that they had travelled in time, again…
The sails were set again and they were travelling at good speed. The ship didn’t have any problems riding the waves in the rough sea. The storm had calmed down and the rain had stopped pouring, but the waves were still rough. Most of the men went about their business on the ship, and the rest of them stood around Theo and Ramona, watching them carefully.
A huge man with a bronze helmet on his head and his hair neatly braided at the back was looking down at them. His mantle was flapping in the wind when he bent over them.
“Who are you?” the man with the bronze helmet asked.
“My name is Theo,” Theo said firmly. “This is my brother Ram.”
Theo nodded at Ramona who looked back at him in bewilderment. But she didn’t say anything. She was sure Theo had a good explanation to why he had shortened her name and called her “brother”. She just had to wait and see. Theo didn’t do anything without good reason; Ramona had learnt that during the time they had known each other.
“He’s a weak little thing, your brother,” the man said, taking a closer look at Ramona.
Ramona felt the urge to speak up for herself, but she shut her lips tight over the insult.
“He’s tougher than he looks,” Theo calmly replied.
“Yeah, sure! And where do you come from?” the man asked.
“We come from a country beyond the great oceans. We travelled on a big merchant vessel that went down during the big storm. Our parents await us ashore. I’m certain that they will be very grateful to you for taking care of us. No doubt they’ll reward you,” Theo said.
The man laughed loudly and pulled his long twisted beard.
“He’s got a smooth tongue, the stripling. Well, we’ll see who pays the most,” he said.
The man stood up and left them.
“Who are you?” Theo shouted at his back.
Everybody at the ship turned in horror and stared at Theo. One of the men took a quick step towards Theo and gave him a hard slap over his ear.
“You don’t speak to our chief without permission,” the man said in an indignant voice.
“Thorkild,” the chief replied. He had taken a liking to Theo because of his fearlessness. “My name is Thorkild. But think before you speak the next time. A thrall doesn’t speak until he’s spoken to.”
Theo lifted his hand and touched his ear which was red and hot after the slap. He forced back a smile. It felt as if he had won the first round in the word battle with the chief. Now he just had to come out of their next struggle victoriously.
Two men came and grabbed Theo and Ramona. The men took them to the front of the boat, tied their hands and feet and left them alone. They huddled together to get some warmth from each other, which wasn’t easy in their wet clothes and the cold wind. Ramona sat there in only her knickers, socks, t-shirt and a fleece sweater. Theo had vest, pants, socks, jeans, t-shirt and a thick woollen sweater, but all this didn’t make him much warmer than Ramona’s few clothes did, because everything was soaking wet. They were both watching the restless, whining Pluto who wanted to be near them and protect them, but couldn’t.
“Why did you tell them I was your brother and that my name was Ram?” Ramona whispered.
“I don’t want them to know you’re a girl,” he whispered back. “There is a better chance they let us stick together if we are both boys. It’s really important we stick together, at any price. How else will we have a chance to return to our own time?”
Theo looked very resolute. He felt that it depended on him if everything was to go well for Ramona, Pluto and himself. He was the strong one; he had to face the responsibility. It felt like a really heavy responsibility when you didn’t have any possibilities. On top of that Theo worried about what the chief had called him, a thrall! He had to let Ramona notice a little of his fear by asking her if it meant what he thought it did.
“What is a thrall, Ramona? Is it what I fear it is?” he said, regretting his question, when he saw the fear it caused in Ramona’s face.
“If you think it means slave, you’re right,” Ramona whispered in a trembling voice.
Suddenly it all came back to her, how she had once before been imprisoned as a slave. She thought of how terrible it had been then, and that made her think of how horrid her life probably was to be from this moment on.
Ramona was glad Theo had been so quick-witted that he had introduced them as brothers. She hadn’t given it a thought that it probably could be worse if the Vikings found out that she was a girl.
“We have to stick together at any price now,” Theo whispered.
“Hrmm,” Ramona answered. She was now concentrating on trying to untie the ropes around her wrists.
She wanted by no means become a slave again. She meant to do everything in her power to save the three of them. But she realised as she looked out over the big ship with its coarse crew of Vikings, that she had absolutely no idea of how she’d do it.
The Viking chief Thorkild watched the two youngsters and the dog he had picked up from the sea. He studied them carefully as they sat there cuddled together in the bow. They looked somehow different. There was something wrong somewhere. Was it the clothes? Or was it their daring way of answering back to him? He didn’t really know what it was, but he was sure of one thing, he was going to find out before they reached their final destination…
Ramona woke with a start. The ship had landed. The men shouting to each other while pulling the ship ashore had woken her. Had they reached their destination? Would she, Theo and Pluto be sold as slaves now? Ramona stretched out her bound hands against Theo, grasping his cold hands, pressing them as hard as she could, which wasn’t very hard, because her own hands felt numb after being tied for so long in the cold weather.
Pluto whined. He wanted to be there with them too. He could see his master and mistress sitting close together. They didn’t look happy, but they weren’t alone like he was. His fur had dried now and it felt more comfortable, but his throat was aching for water and his stomach rumbled for food. It must be long past food time. Why was everything so different today?
Theo looked at his dog. He wished he could stroke his nose, rub his ears and whisper comforting words. He understood that Pluto felt alone and deserted. Surely he was both hungry and thirsty too; he was himself because many hours had passed since their latest meal. As if that wasn’t enough, he was also chilled to the bone, the cold had dug deep into him and he couldn’t stop shaking. His clothes weren’t soaking wet any more, but wet enough to keep him cold. He was pleased to see that Pluto seemed to be dry now. They had to rely on Pluto. He would be a great help to them…in some way. But right now Theo couldn’t figure out how.
A red-haired Viking, with long braids sticking out from his leather helmet, gave them a push with one of his feet. It was as if he somehow didn’t want to touch them. Maybe it was that they looked so different, that their dog was absolutely outstanding, or maybe that he was simply too tired to bend down to give them a hand.
“Will you be all right?” Theo whispered and tried to push Ramona up from the floor.
Ramona moaned quietly as she struggled to get up. She tried to give Theo a hand at the same time, without realising that he was trying to help her. When Ramona saw one of the men approach Pluto she shouted:
“Leave him alone! He’ll bite you. I’m the only one he obeys!”
Ramona didn’t know why she said that. The words had jumped out of her mouth before she had thought them through. She wasn’t even sure that Pluto would listen to “only” her. Pluto was Theo’s dog; he was the one who best handled the dog. Besides, Pluto was the most good-natured dog she had ever met. Ramona didn’t think he would even hurt a fly, but the Vikings didn’t know that. They might as well respect him.
Pluto heard Ramona’s words and quickly gave a menacing growl and showed all his teeth to the man. He was certain that was what his mistress wanted him to do. Inwardly the dog was smiling when he saw the man’s scared face. Pluto nearly started to wag his tail out of pure joy over the man’s reaction, but he broke off at the very last moment.
The Viking chief Thorkild approached them.
“Who does the dog belong to?” the chief asked.
Ramona looked at Theo who quickly replied:
“It’s Ram's. The dog only obeys my brother.”
The unloading, that temporarily had stopped because of the dog’s growl, quickly got going again when the chief shouted an order:
“Why are you standing there? Get moving!”
He then turned to Ramona and said:
“Can you guarantee that the dog won’t attack us if I let you take care of him?”
Ramona gave Pluto a pleading look and thought she could see an answer in his eyes.
“Yes!” she said firmly. “He does everything I ask him to. But he only obeys me! You can’t separate us!”
Ramona bitterly regretted those words as soon as they had passed her lips. It felt like she’d left Theo to his own fate. She could have said that they had to be together all three of them, or Pluto would eat them alive. But she couldn’t say that now, it wouldn’t sound likely. Yet she had to give it a try. They mustn’t separate Theo, Pluto and her.
“He obeys Theo too, so you’d better keep the three of us together!” Ramona said.
“We will see about that,” Thorkild replied.
The chief gave Ramona a closer look and ran his fingers through his beard. That boy really had a light voice. Hmm. There was something strange about him. The explanation could be simple; maybe he wasn’t old enough to have a man’s voice yet, or maybe he was one of those men who would go through life with a squeaky woman’s voice. There were men like that. He had met them in Miklagård. Hmm!
The Viking chief beckoned to a slender young boy with downy stubble to approach. The young man tried to act grown-up and with authority when he walked over to the chief. Clearly he respected the man greatly and wanted to please him.
“Larsa! You’re responsible for the thralls and their beast. You know that the Danes here in Hedeby only want the best, so do what you find necessary to tidy them up before you take them to the marketplace. They will be worth more if they look like they’re in good condition! Send word for us at the beerhouse when you arrive at the marketplace. I want to be there and make sure we get good money for these three.”
Ramona listened to the words of the Viking chief and memorized two of them: Hedeby, the Danes. That must mean they had been taken to Denmark, she thought. Well, Denmark isn’t too far away from the south coast of Sweden, so it seems reasonable. But what does it mean for Theo and me that we are in Denmark now?
Larsa nodded eagerly, very pleased with his task. This was his first journey with the Vikings and his father, and so far so good. They had been fortunate when they raided along the river Dnepr and the price for these thralls would most likely be good. One of the boys looked strong, but the other one was a tiny little thing. He had to do something about that to raise the price. Resolutely Larsa walked over to a simple wooden chest, which he had used as a seat at the oars during the journey. In it he had clothes he had brought from home. Surely his father would share the wealth they had won during the trip and then he would be able to afford new, more beautiful clothes. Maybe he would buy some already here at the market in Hedeby, because here merchants from all over the world were gathered. He ought to find something here that would attract the girls back home at the farm, make them realise he wasn’t a little boy any more, but that he now was a big strong Viking warrior. In that case it wouldn’t matter that he gave away some of his old clothes in order to give the impression of muscles on the tiny little boy.
Larsa found a thick woollen sweater; that he could pull on the thrall. Mum had knitted it, would she be angry if he’d lost it? He could always say he’d lost it in battle; that would surely make her extra proud. Yeah, he would give the sweater to the thrall; it was large and would make the boy look bigger. The older boy had muscles enough; he wouldn’t need any extra clothing.
Theo and Ramona watched the young man rummage about in a chest. Ramona was thinking about handcuffs, iron chains and heavy weights, like she had been forced to wear in Pompeii when she was imprisoned there. Theo was wondering what the Viking was up to. Wouldn’t he ever let them loose? Pluto was aching to be close to his master and mistress. He was longing so much that a whine of desire escaped him, but the whine was so silent that nobody heard it.
“Give me your hands!” Larsa said to Ramona and with a quick cut of his knife he cut off the rope around her wrists.
Ramona’s hands immediately started to tingle as the blood was allowed to flow freely again through her frozen hands. It was very unpleasant.
I don’t know what is worse, Ramona thought, this nasty stinging feeling or the horrible feeling of the tightly tied rope.
“Put this on!”
Larsa handed her the woollen sweater. Ramona had trouble putting it on; it felt like her hands didn’t really belong to her. This was exactly how it felt sometimes when the clock woke her in the morning and she reached out to shut it off, but couldn’t feel her hand because she had slept on it. Ramona knew that the feeling would come back, but it did hurt!
After Ramona finally had got the sweater over her head, she felt hands grab around her wrists again and a new rope was tied around them, not as tightly as before but it felt just as bitter. Ramona had thought she would get rid off the rope, that they’d believe her of not running away, that they… that after all they wouldn’t sell her as a thrall. She understood now that her hopes had been in vain. Why would they not sell her, Theo and Pluto? It was the only reasonable thing. They couldn’t demand a ransom from her parents, because they were in another age. Speaking of that, what year was it really? It had to be some time between 750 and 1050 A.D., because that was when the Vikings had been strong and gone on their raids. Though… what did the year matter? It wouldn’t help them getting home. The only thing she could remember about the Viking Age was that Leif Eriksson, son of Erik the Red, discovered America. In other words, Columbus didn’t. She had just learned that in school. Imagine that the Vikings had sailed a small ship like this over the Atlantic, all the way to America.
Ramona was so impressed that she for a moment forgot about her own terrible situation.
Vineland was what Leif Eriksson had called America, and Erik the Red had found Greenland and had named the cold, snowy country Greenland, undoubtedly to tempt more people to go there, or maybe the country simply had been greener and warmer at that time. Just think, maybe she was going to experience one of those events!
Suddenly Ramona felt quite excited. What if she would take part in the discovery of America! Would she be mentioned in the history books then? In that case it was almost worth being a thrall if she could be present at an event like that. That was… yes, that was really history!
Theo could see Ramona blush and her face beam with joy. Had she come up with a plan to get them out of this misery? He couldn’t think of any other explanation that would make her so intensely happy during these circumstances.
Larsa too saw how the colour came back to Ramona’s face.
“You really needed my woollen sweater,” he whispered to Ramona.
Even if Larsa wanted to be a big, strong and hard-hearted Viking, he was as soft as an overripe tomato. Every time he ran his sword into someone he cried inside, quietly asking for his victim’s forgiveness, before running his sword into the next one. Now his heart was warmed up by Ramona’s joy over his old sweater. He sighed happily! Finally he had made someone happy during this journey. He had of course no idea what was going on in Ramona’s mind; he didn’t even know that it was a girl who stood there in front of him.
Pluto was overjoyed when Ramona was brought to him. He was jumping and bouncing about, wagging his tail so intensely that he managed to move one of the chests that was close to him. There were no limits to his happiness. When Ramona bent down to him he jumped up and nearly knocked her down in his urge to show how happy he was. Finally, when Ramona leaned against the mast, with his big paws resting on her shoulders, Pluto licked her whole face. The dog’s weight was nearly too much for Ramona. Her knees were shaking and she nearly fell over.
“Down, Pluto! DOWN!”
Please Pluto, obey me, she begged silently inside, knowing how hard it was for Pluto to take it easy when they had been separated for a while. To her surprise he immediately jumped down and sat by her side, quiet and obedient.
“Your dog is really well-behaved!” the Viking said. “Can he do any tricks? That would mean more money at the market. If he can do any trick at all, we’ll get a decent price for him.”
“He won’t do any tricks without me!” Ramona said, nearly biting her tongue off for not saying ‘without Theo and me’.
She quickly considered the tricks Theo usually made Pluto perform: roll around, play dead, sit and stay, do one plus one, but maybe the Vikings couldn’t do that themselves… No, that was a stupid thought; of course the Vikings were able to do sums, how could they otherwise sell their things? Well, were there any more tricks Pluto could perform? He could open parcels, boxes and tins. He could fetch things on command, he could… Yes, Pluto knew a lot of tricks, but would he perform them for her?
Ramona got a strange feeling that her life depended on whether or not she could make Pluto obey her. She swallowed her fear and caressed Pluto’s big, warm head.
If you don’t obey me, Pluto, Ramona thought, we are both going to be in big trouble! At least me!
A coarse rope tied Theo and Ramona together as they were taken from the beach towards the landing bridges and the wood-covered road of split logs that led in between the small, grey houses with narrow standing fences and turf roof. Some of the houses had walls made by plaited willows. Others yet had laying planks. Smoke poured out from every house they passed. The house gables faced the wooden road and a low fence of plaited willow surrounded every house. Near some of the buildings were outhouses within the fences. The houses lay very close to each other and there was a nasty smell from rubbish-heaps. Pigs were rooting in the rubbish.
Children were playing happily and barefooted in the cold mud around the houses. Their woollen mantles were dirty, as were the edges on their frocks and trousers. On one of the girls the kerchief was hanging on one side, another had hers in her hand letting her hair fly for the wind in the misty air, when she ran wildly around with the other children. There was hustle and bustle at the wooden road. From the quay and the ships below, thralls came fully loaded with goods, packages and rolls of cloth.
From one of the houses came shouting and laughter. Through the door, Ramona and Theo could see long tables and benches. The place was filled with Vikings drinking mead, laughing and singing in the smoke-filled beerhouse. Some of the men came from Theo and Ramona’s ship, they were happy to have found so much silver, two thralls and a dog that they had picked up from the sea, like a gift from the god Thor, when he had thundered over the vault of heaven in his big carriage.
However, about this Theo and Ramona knew nothing. They were walking after Larsa. Ramona with Theo’s hand in hers and a firm grip of Pluto’s collar. There wasn’t any need to hold him, really; he would never leave her side now that he smelled danger. But Ramona was scared that someone would grab Pluto and take him away from her. She was terrified she would be separated from Theo as well and held on to him just as firmly.
They arrived at a place situated a bit higher than the surrounding houses. There were wooden palisades formed like cages and inside them there were people in the same boat as Theo and Ramona, captured as slaves. Instead of putting Theo and Ramona with the rest of the slaves, Larsa opened an empty cage and told them to get in.
Ramona ordered Pluto in and hurried after him.
Theo, on the other hand, stopped at the entrance. If he went in now they would be irretrievably lost. Should he take a chance and run away? He quickly looked around. The place was noisy and filled with people, and he was sure he’d get away. But would he find his way out of this muddle of houses and people, and above all, would he be able to find his way back to rescue Ramona and Pluto?
Larsa saw the thrall stop and examine the surroundings. He quickly realised that the thrall was thinking about escaping, and before Theo had a chance to put his thoughts into action he was given a hard push in his back which made him fall in through the opening. Just as fast, the door to the cage was closed and bolted.
Larsa smiled at Theo and said:
“You thought you could fool me because I haven’t grown a long beard yet. But I’m the son of the chief. I’m trained to see the danger before it comes; I knew what you had in mind. You can’t fool me; get that into your head!”
Larsa, feeling very pleased, turned around and headed back to the beerhouse to fetch his father before the thrall trade started.
There were many thralls with different colours and languages. Desperate cries were heard from one cage, praying from another. But most of the thralls were quiet, sitting apathetically, awaiting their fate. Aenea, the slave girl Ramona had met in Pompeii, had been exactly like that. She was the girl who had said ‘as long as there is life there is hope’ and then had given up in spite of the fact that she was still alive. Ramona could still remember Aenea’s scream when the guard had taken her away. Ramona sincerely hoped that something like that wouldn’t happen to her. However… nobody knew she was a girl, nobody except Theo. She wondered if that was to her advantage or disadvantage.
“Theo, what shall we do?” Ramona whispered, leaning close to Theo so that no one would hear.
First, there was no reply from Theo. He looked as if he hadn’t recovered from the shock when Larsa had pushed him into the cage. He sat with his arms around his knees staring through the wooden bars with cloudy eyes. The next moment it was as if he suddenly realised that Ramona was talking to him, because his golden brown eyes cleared and lit up as he turned to her.
“Did you say something, Ramona?”
“Theo! What shall we do?” Ramona said a little louder and observed him closely, scared of his weird behaviour.
“That’s exactly what I was thinking about,” Theo replied. “I was trying to figure out how to escape. First we have to get out of this cage. Then we have to get out of town, without getting caught again… and you know… then we somehow have to get back to our own time!”
A heavy sigh escaped Theo. He quickly turned his head away, as if he didn’t want Ramona to see how worried he was. But Ramona had heard the sigh; she had seen the despair in his eyes. Even if he had tried to sound as if he had a plan, Theo’s words told her how terribly hard it would be to get out of there. Ramona bit her lip, hard, hard, and fought back the tears.
“We will make it!” she said in an attempt to give her friend courage. “This time we have Pluto with us, he can help us!”
Pluto whined when he heard his name and gave Ramona a wet kiss with his long tongue. Ramona felt how her face was all wet and she was filled with joy as she wiped away the dog's saliva. Pluto understood, he would help them.
“I don’t want anything to happen to Pluto,” Theo said. “Actually, I wish we had left him at home today. Then at least he wouldn’t have been captured. What if they kill him and eat him, what if they decide to sacrifice him to one of their heathen gods, what if…”
Theo interrupted himself when Ramona let out a little hoarse scream of fear. He understood that he had said too much, he shouldn’t have taken his fear out on her.
“Never mind, you’re right. We will make it. We always do, in some way. And you are right about Pluto too, I’m sure he can help us. Don’t worry, everything will be all right!”
Theo hardly had the time to finish his sentence before he too received a wet kiss all over his face. Theo put his arms around Pluto giving him a big hug. Then he gave the dog a kiss on the nose and whispered into his soft fur:
“You must promise to be careful. Don’t do anything foolish. Just do what we tell you to do. Don’t try to be a hero. These are tough people we’re dealing with. They won’t hesitate to kill both you and us if they want to. You MUST be careful!”
“Did you say something?” Ramona wondered, looking at Theo.
He shook his head, still with his face buried in Pluto’s fur.
Ramona understood very well what he felt. She too was worried about what could happen to Pluto and to Theo and her. But what could they do?
Theo leaned against Ramona’s shoulder and started talking with a much happier voice than earlier:
“You know, I sat here thinking about the first time we met.”
Theo gave a laugh and sat straight up so he could look Ramona in the eyes.
“Which is your strongest memory from when we met in Pompeii?” he asked.
Ramona didn’t have to think, the words flew out of her mouth:
“It was when I, in my surprise about seeing a living Pompeii, said ‘Pinch me’, and you really pinched me, hard!”
They both laughed when they thought about it.
“What is your strongest memory?” Ramona wondered.
Theo looked shrewd and his face beamed with joy.
“Your legs!” he said with a smile so big that Ramona was surprised his mouth didn’t reach up to his ears.
“My legs…” Ramona lifted her eyebrows and tried to look serious, but happiness was bubbling inside her when she remembered how fascinated Theo had been by her naked legs. She had worn shorts and in Pompeii no women showed their legs, so Theo had never seen any naked women’s legs. He had been totally fascinated and had kept talking about her legs even after Ramona was dressed in a decent dress reaching down to her ankles.
“Well, now I’m used to seeing your legs all the time, but that doesn’t make me feel bad,” Theo said with a blink at Ramona.
Theo had succeeded in his attempt to make Ramona think about something else and at the same time, he had forgotten the worries himself.
For a moment they both escaped from their horrible situation and thought about the happy memories they shared.
They were abruptly returned to reality when there was a sudden commotion outside the palisades. A new group of prisoners arrived, tied together with chains. They were women and children. Their skin was so dark that it almost tinged with blue.
“Here I come with thralls from Blueland!” shouted a big, muscular Viking dressed in a magnificent red fur-trimmed mantle. A round leather cap, also fur-trimmed, covered his head. He wore light leather trousers with puttees at the bottom and a pair of solid leather shoes. He looked rich and powerful, not at all like a person who drove thralls. However, that was explained when a tiny, skinny man stepped out from the shadows of one of the houses and spoke to the impressive man.
“So, you dare not leave your thralls to any of your men, as usual. Are you afraid they’d let them free, or that these ‘blue-men’ would defeat them. There are only women and children this time; surely they couldn’t defeat your men?”
The skinny man laughed just as loud as any big man would have done. His laugh echoed between the houses and made the thralls feel uncomfortable. It was no hearty laugh. It was affected and oily, a laugh from a man who couldn’t be trusted.
“Well, we have enough here to start the bidding,” the skinny man said and picked up a dagger from his belt, which he used to remove a piece of meat that had stuck between his teeth.
Ramona shivered at the sight of how the man handled his dagger as easy as if it had been a toothpick. If she hadn’t heard the man’s unpleasant laugh, she would have thought it was a nice person who stood there in front of her. He was rosy-cheeked and had a sympathetic face, blue eyes and long blond hair, which he wore in a long braid at his back. He looked small and thin, more like a professor too wrapped up in his books than a Viking. But the laugh had made her watchful. The man probably had greater power than the eye could see. She had to watch out for him.
Theo had the same thoughts as he watched the newly arrived thralls, the owner and the man who was obviously in charge of the bidding and the selling. He really wanted to listen to the men’s conversation, but suddenly the new thralls started singing a sad, mournful song, making it impossible to hear anything but the thralls’ voices. The song penetrated him, it made him shiver to his bones and he could actually feel the other thralls’ pain. A pain that he and Ramona would share very soon if he couldn’t figure out a way to escape.
The song had attracted many people. Women, children, men, old people, everyone left their houses and came to the road leading to the marketplace. Some were gathering around the cages, some around the dark thralls and many of them started to display things to sell. Those who had brought wagons put up trestle tables and showed their goods. There were furs, down, iron, walrus teeth and soapstone. There were also different spices like salt, onion, garlic, mustard, watercress and horseradish. Some people carried baskets with fresh bread, eggs or dried meat that they offered for sale.
There were also stands where meat, hides, butter, milk and cheese were sold. Everywhere there were animals for sale: lambs, goats, an occasional ox, calves and pigs. But there was also fish: salmon, cod and pike. In one stand apples, hazelnuts, honey and different berries were for sale. In another stand, they sold eggs from wild birds and meat from seals. There was hustle and bustle and the air was filled with different smells. Suddenly the place was boiling with joy. It was as if the people were gathering for a big festivity.
Theo didn’t feel any joy at all. Instead he felt like he was waiting for his execution and he understood that he had waited too long to come up with a plan. Now they would never be able to escape. There were too many eyes watching them. At the same time, it might be easier to steal away in the crowd… hrmm. Theo frowned as a plan started to take form inside of him.
To her relief Ramona saw Theo’s face light up as if he had come to think of something and she was filled with happiness. Theo had a plan. He had found a way for them to leave. Her face broke into a big smile and she tousled Pluto’s fur in sheer delight. They would soon run away. Ramona prepared herself.
Suddenly Theo knew how they could escape. Ramona had been right. They had to use Pluto to succeed. He had to risk that something happened to Pluto, because he was their only chance out of this misery.
Theo had considered all possible solutions without coming up with anything as safe as using Pluto. All Theo’s previous fears about not finding their way out of town, about getting away from there and returning to their own time… all that had to wait. The important thing now was getting out of the cage. And to create as much chaos as possible, so that they could disappear in the crowd before anybody realised that they had escaped.
Slowly Theo leaned over to Ramona and whispered his plan. At first she was scared when she heard what Theo had to say, but finally she realised that it was their only chance. And it was her suggestion they’d use Pluto in the first place, so she had to stick to the plan now. Yet Ramona was shivering when she thought of what could happen to her beloved dog. What would she do if something did happen to him? Mixed emotions were tumbling around inside her and made her feel sick. On top of that Ramona was afraid she wouldn’t be able to stand up fast enough when it was time; it wasn’t easy getting up with one’s hands tied. Luckily their feet were free.
Thorkild was on his way to the marketplace together with his men. Some of them were very drunk, but still able to stand up. The chief understood that his men needed to relax after their long journey. They had all reasons to celebrate. He, on the other hand, wouldn’t celebrate until they were home in their own harbour. In the beerhouse he had made a decision. Now he was in a hurry to get to the marketplace before it was too late to do anything about what he had decided.
A lot of people were heading for the marketplace. It was a big market day with many visitors from all around. The rumour said there were many new thralls, ‘bluemen’, who were very appreciated. The rumour about Thorkild’s catch had spread too, everybody was talking about the big muscular dog. People hurried there to catch a glimpse of it, even if they couldn’t afford the beast themselves.
The crowd got worse the nearer they came the marketplace. Thorkild felt worried and sped up, something was about to happen, something that wasn’t to his benefit. His paces were so long and resolute that the men who were just slightly drunk had to run to keep up with him. The others, the drunk ones, came behind without a chance to keep up because of their intoxicated state.
One could hear screaming and yelling and cheering. Thorkild understood that they had started taking the thralls out of their cages. The worry inside him increased. He didn’t know what made him feel this way, but he knew that if he didn’t reach his thralls very soon, he would most likely lose them. That mustn’t happen, not now that he’d made up his mind. Violently he pushed people out of his way and was hence followed by angry words and drawn swords, but nobody had a chance to do anything before Thorkild had disappeared in the crowd.
“Now, Ramona! We’ll be next!” Theo whispered. “Get up on your feet, be prepared. You know what you have to do. Set Pluto on the guards as soon as I’m out of the cage. ‘Attack’ is the word of command.”
“Why don’t you do it?” Ramona wondered, not sure that she really had the courage to give that command to Pluto.
“They expect me to try something, but not you, my weak little brother, who seem so unsure of life,” Theo said and smiled at Ramona, to soften his harsh words.
A quick rage had risen inside her, but it calmed down just as quickly when she saw Theo’s smile. He meant well. He wanted the Vikings who had captured them to see her as small and weak, although they were trying to make her look big and strong. She wondered which was best for her. What part did she want to play? Did she maybe want to be just Ramona and not the Viking boy Ram?
“Now! Get up!” Theo intensely whispered, as he realised that Ramona still sat irresolutely on the ground. “UP!”
Ramona struggled to get up with the help of Pluto. Why didn’t Theo help her? He usually did. She looked at him. He stood there resolute and focused, staring out of the cage; his muscles were taut as if he was ready to jump. Ramona’s breath came in short pants. She was scared, so horribly scared, even though both Theo and Pluto were there with her. She said a short prayer to her ancestors for help. She had learnt that when she was with the Incas. And somewhere among these Vikings she might have her ancestors. Who knew if the woman over there wasn’t her great-great-great-great grandmother or something like that, or maybe the man next to her was her great-great-great grandfather. The thought calmed her down and her breath went back to normal. If these people were her relatives they couldn’t be too dangerous.
But that was an illusory thought, because none of the people standing around her had any idea that Theo and Ramona came from the future and that they could be distant relatives. All they saw was new thralls, wearing somewhat strange clothes compared to the other thralls and the surrounding people, but other than that they didn’t see anything unusual. Ramona wouldn’t get any help from any of these Vikings, whatever she thought.
The man in charge of the thralls and the bidding sent one of his men to take Theo and Ramona out of the cage. Theo was prepared; he was vibrating from withheld energy. He more felt than saw Ramona standing there right behind him with Pluto by her side. He could hear her short breath and understood that she too was ready and prepared. They would make it! The bolt was withdrawn, the door opened and Theo jumped out of the cage, screaming at the top of his voice:
Ramona opened her mouth to give Pluto the command, but no sound came over her lips. Instead she stared in astonishment at what was happening outside the cage and before she had come to her senses, someone had pulled her out of the cage and put a hand over her mouth. Pluto got a snare around his nose and another around his neck. And before she had recovered from her surprise everything was too late, much too late.
Theo screamed in anger when strong arms caught him in mid-air, ruining his attempt to jump out through the gate. He struggled furiously and tried to fight himself free. The only thing that happened was that the man took a firm grip of his t-shirt and held him at arm’s length so that neither a kick nor a blow could reach the man. Theo, on the other hand, was slowly strangled by his own t-shirt that squeezed his throat harder and harder. Finally he just hung there in the man’s grip, blue in his face, unmoveable, without a word, without a movement.
Ramona couldn’t believe her eyes. She bit her lip and stared at Theo hanging there lifeless. Now the man let go of Theo, who just collapsed on the ground. Was Theo dead? Suddenly she had supernatural powers and with a jerk she tore herself free from her guard and flung herself on the ground next to Theo. Pluto too managed to get away and threw himself next to Theo’s body.
“Theo! Theo! Are you alive?”
Tears were running down Ramona’s cheeks and they fell on Theo who suddenly moved and opened his eyes. The look he gave her she would never forget. His eyes were blazing with anger, never before had she seen Theo so angry.
“I blew it,” Theo said in a harsh voice. “I blew everything! How could I be so stupid?”
“If you could restrain your eyes from showing everything you think, maybe you would succeed the next time,” Thorkild said and in one swift move he lifted Theo from the ground and held him in a firm grip.
Theo gritted his teeth in anger. He felt like a little spoilt kid being told off by his father. Theo kept his anger to himself and didn’t say a word, even though there were a lot of things he would have loved to tell this Viking chief. Theo knew when he was beaten. Nothing was better if you said things that you had to regret later. He and Ramona would have more opportunities to run away. They just had to make sure they kept together!
Ramona felt ungentle hands drag her up from the ground.
“You are a handful!” the guard said, putting a rope around her neck, like a snare.
Ramona drew her breath in horror when the rope fell around her neck. Was the man going to strangle her just because she had been so frightened when she thought that Theo had died, because she had torn herself away to see if her friend was alive? Her legs suddenly felt like freshly boiled spaghetti and she had to make a big effort to even keep standing. If she fell now she would most likely be strangled. Ramona clenched her teeth and through a curtain of tears she could see Theo being taken away from her. She didn’t even dare call his name, in case the snare might be tightened then. Out of the corner of her eye Ramona glanced to see if Pluto still was by her side. Yes, he was there, with ropes around both his neck and his nose. The dog stared after Theo with as much longing in his eyes as Ramona felt.
What did it mean that Theo was taken away? Would they come back for her too? Were they going to separate the two of them? What an awful thought. No, no, I mustn’t think like that, Ramona said to herself. I’ll drop dead if I have that thought just once again, I know it! We will meet again. Pluto is going to find him. Maybe we’ll see each other again in just a little while. Yes, of course we will, Ramona tried to persuade herself, not to lose courage.
What Ramona didn’t know, was that it was going to be a long time, a very, very long time before she would see her friend again.
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