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Naked Man is sitting on a large stone slab next to one of the ship nurseries. There’s a huge, rusted, iron ring in the centre of the slab, that chains must once have been threaded through to lower baby ships into the water. He’s leaning against the ring, his knees pulled up to his chest, staring at the inky water.
He must be terrified.
He’s no longer naked. In fact, judging by the tightness and the neddiness of his tracksuit, he might well have robbed it off the same washing line Nathan did. Some poor bugger put a wee washing out and lost all his tracksuits to historical characters.
I’m not sure what to do, so I clear my throat and take a small step closer. He turns to look at me and that scent of smoke and sage and peat hits me again and I feel a tiny spark. A spark-spark. A spark I’ve not felt in a good wee while without the aid of some heavy-duty battery-operated devices. Jeez-o Kirsty, there’s no time for any of that carry on now, I think, but several key bits of me pointedly disagree.
‘Are you a viking?’
My voice seems to echo in the moonlight between us as he stares at me with deep blue eyes. His hair falls in waves to his shoulders, the mass of plaits pulled back from his face by a rough strip of leather. It’s a ruddy blond and his stubble glows reddish gold in the moonlight. There’s a deep, white scar at his collar bone where it looks worryingly as though somebody tried to decapitate him once upon a time. I realise it may be fairly standard for the life he was born to, but I can’t help thinking that this boy is a menace to himself.
Belatedly, I remember that the chances of him understanding Modern English are about zero. He fixes me with an intense stare, watching my lips, almost as though trying to read a translation on them. I might be about to melt under the strength of his gaze.
‘Viking,’ he repeats slowly. It sounds more like vee-king-ur. His voice is soft and deep and vibrates deep within me.
Christ, he’d make a fortune doing a podcast.
I spent a summer teaching paddleboard yoga in Stockholm, and picked up a smattering of the lingo from a series of lanky, soft spoken blonds I tossed out my hostel the minute they’d got their breath back. The skills of Scandinavian men are… not something I should be thinking about right now. I suspect that modern Swedish will be about as comprehensible to him as Chaucer is to me, but it’s the only thing I’ve got.
‘Mitt namn är Kirsty,’ I say in an accent that would make Abba faint with horror. He smiles, revealing surprisingly straight, white teeth. I’ve got a vague recollection of reading something about that. He may have lived before toothpaste, but very little in their diet would rot teeth the way modern food does ours. This poor man wouldn’t know a Tunnock’s Tea Cake if it bit him on the bum, I think sadly.
‘Namn. Kirsty,’ I repeat, tapping my chest for good measure.
He nods. ‘Frej,’ he says, his hand on his own, distractingly powerful, chest. You can’t help feeling sorry for that tracksuit. It wasn’t built to contain muscles like that.
‘There’s a band called The Fray,’ I tell him, pointlessly. ‘Bit whiny, but they had one good song. They’re no ABBA,’ I assure him. I’m rabbiting like a budgie that hasn’t seen a human in a decade. It’s good to know my usual level of sexy seductiveness is firmly in place. Frej chuckles, his rumbling laughter hitting me right in the fanny and then, because I am a menace to myself, I burst into tears.
And not cute wee girly tears. Huge, gulping, gasping sobs. It’s as though a tidal wave of grief and weirdness and general world-being-knocked-off-its-axisness crashes over me all at once, and I’m a blotchy, snotty mess when Frej gathers me in his arms.
He lifts me off my feet as though I weigh nothing — I don’t have a complex or anything, but the word strapping has been used to describe me more than once — and sits with his back against the iron ring slab, holding me to his chest as though I’m a wee injured bird. This is usually my cue to make a daft comment, to pack my feelings back in and laugh that I’m just joking, but I don’t. I can’t. I can feel the warmth of his chest, the steady rhythm of his heart, and I feel safer than I can ever remember. I cry and cry until I am empty.
It’s not until the storm is over and I’m wracked by those horrible empty sobs that are almost like wee, sore hiccups, that I notice he’s not smothering me. I am on his lap, but one huge hand is stroking my hair and the other arm kind of bridges over me to rest on his knee. I could get to my feet and he wouldn’t have to move.
‘Shhh,’ he mutters into my hair and if by magic, I do.

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