I remember during the edit of my first book, Windswept Hearts, the editor commented that one chapter should be two chapters and it needed more back story. I was upset because I hate writing joiners. Those sections you need that continue the flow of the story but to you seem boring. How do you spice them up? It also meant another 1200 words and there would be an uneven number of chapters. All creative types have their idiosyncrasies. My quirk is wanting my books to end on an even number of chapters. Ugh.
I was mad at my editor but too passive to say anything. So, I decided my heroine would wake up grumpy, then the coffee maker goes out, and her love interest irritates her. I relished writing this scene and I put all my frustration into it. My editor is no dummy. She figured out my angst and added salt to the wound by telling me it was the best scene in the book. We have laughed many times over it.
My point? We all know, as writers where our weaknesses lie. Whether it’s writing a scene ten times and not getting it right or merely skipping something we don’t want to work out. We know when our writing doesn’t make the grade and we worry the reader is going to notice. Every author knows you get tired at the end of writing, editing and re-writing the story. There are scene changes that don’t go smoothly, those plot holes that take a dump trunk of words to fill in and all your skill to cover. Then you are finished, and you send your project out into the reader pool hoping it won’t get torn to shreds by public opinion or worse yet, left to die a slow, dusty death on a bookshelf.
I also worry about how a reader is going to react to the social setting of the time. I find writing historical fiction gives me more leeway to be creative but keeps my feet to the fire because I still have boundaries I must work within. The period I chose, Viking history, is a little rough around the edges for our present time. They weren’t called barbarians for no reason. They eked out an existence in the harshest of lands, fought like demons, loved wildly, had a sophisticated social setting and were independent to a fault. They did not live by our current societal rules. I knew I would have to be accurate about their lifestyle yet I knew this would be offensive to some. I was concerned about my heroine’s age. Typically, in the period I was in, young girls were married off by the age of fifteen. I have felt the parents may have been smarter then. (I raised three teenage daughters) At that age a girls’ hormones are raging, she wants to do things her way. Could those parents have decided, “let’s just marry her off and let the husband handle it?”
However, in our day and age girls are considered underaged until 18. I knew where the hard spots were, and worried how they would be perceived. Take for instance the rape of hostages or woman of a conquered village. This was the norm. Also, a woman didn’t have much choice or say in whom they may have to marry. They were used as bargaining chips for peace or alliances, or for improving the family wealth. They could even be sold into slavery. On top of that, they were held to high standards, such as being a virgin when they married.
Nowadays men are expected to treat women equally, fairly and respectfully. Women have rights and freedoms that didn’t exist back then. I knew Viking men in the 800’s were a rough crowd and conditions harsh. Though Viking women had more rights than most of that time, men still held most of the power. Historical fiction can be hard to read through the lens of our modern society.
The bottom line, when a reviewer comes along, it’s easy to become defensive, angry or filled with self-pity if they don’t like something. If you are honest with yourself though, you know when they are spot on and have ferreted out your weaknesses. So, what do you do?
Everyone handles it differently. All I can tell you is how I did it. On my recent book, Norse Hearts, I sent out and paid for three professional reviews. The first two reviews, Kirkus and Foreward Reviews, came back with glowing comments. I was ecstatic. Then the Blue Ink review came in. I was surprised, but I stepped back and analyzed it.
The reviewer hit on every one of my fears. Did that make her wrong? Did that make my book a piece of crap? Did that mean I should never write again? Nope. It said that I was an average writer, and the reviewer was one of the one-third of people who would not like the book and not necessarily for the same reasons.
I have to say I liked her style. She gave respect where respect was due, recognizing my hard work and research. However, it socially did not fit with what she wanted to read. When Blue Ink contacted me about releasing the review, I said go ahead. They seemed surprised. I explained that I needed this review. I wanted those who might hesitate about reading such material, to be able to make an educated decision on whether this was the story for them.
I want my readers to enjoy the material I write. If it is not a subject they care for, I’m okay with that. I have read books I disagreed with, or I didn’t enjoy the writers’ style. But, I respected their effort. I respected this reviewer’s honesty, and it will help others who have her same view to avoid an unenjoyable read.
I also looked at the percentage. If I had gotten two negatives out of three, maybe the book needed another rewrite. Instead, I was overjoyed; my rate is two out of three on the positive. I have done my best, and that is all any of us can do. I can say I am okay with what I have accomplished, and this negative review has given me insight and ideas for another book!
If you would like to read any of those reviews, please click on my site page, headed “Books by Robynn Gabel.”
If you would like to comment on any experiences you have had, please feel free to do so below! Have a Happy Writing Day!
So, imagine you are in a bustling city, and you are asked to walk down the street naked. Just cringed, didn’t you?
That’s what I feel like every time I finish a book and start advertising it. In this age of information saturation, to sell a book, I have been instructed to make a brand, not of my storytelling, but of myself.
I enjoy taking everyday happenings and like clay, forming it into a story. My imagination knows no bounds. There isn’t just one genre that calls to me, but many. In my head are about ten stories all the time, and writer’s block is only prevalent when I work to make that story into a readable manuscript.
But the curiosity a reader may have about me, well that makes me want to hide behind a pen name, and a made-up story about my life. I don’t understand why I like to create with the written word. It’s just images and moments are stored, then my brain gets full, and I move some of the stuff out onto paper. While doing this I have a little fun rearranging it into even better moments. I feel a little self-conscious when I share it. Like, who in their right mind thinks up things like this? But then, there is this strange happiness that fills me when someone actually enjoys my creations of imagination. It’s the same feeling I get when someone likes the slop I call cooking!
Some of the things people want to know confuse me. I’m boring. I don’t live anywhere glamorous. I scrape by like everyone else. My habits, good or bad, are average. My inspirations are relatively low key
When I find a story that captivates me (for I like to consume stories as much as I love to create them) I must admit I only want to know if the author has written other stories I can scarf down. Call me narrow-minded or self-centered, but I have never had a desire to know anything further. As a private person, their lives are their own. It is, after all, just a story.
I suppose there is a curiosity about how a story comes about. What made someone think of vampires, murder motives, science fiction, etc? But the answer is right there. Curiosity. A thing we all have in common as a species. Maybe we love stories because we can escape from our own humdrum existence of paying bills, going to work, and trying to survive. For a moment we can step into fantasy and leave behind the real world filled with its problems.
For the author, it could be the same thing. I create a world that I have control in, and I dictate the outcome. Having a whole lot of pride and control issues might help with the creation of imaginary people, worlds and events. Or maybe I just wish I could control the chaos around me, so I create my own little happy world. Who knows, I don’t always understand my own compunctions.
But does knowing where I live, what I wear, what I do or what I had for breakfast really matter? As some wise person once said, “it’s about the story, silly.”
I have been told it is healthy to voice frustrations in journals or diaries and from what I have read in memoirs and blogs, it has been going on for a long time. I guess blogging is another form of that. And for me personally, writing a story does help me to learn to work things out, and sometimes gives me insight into a problem I have at hand.
Every writer has reasons for the story they develop. It is a personal journey that some are more willing to share than others. I can only hope that if you are a writer and reading this, you realize that you are normal. If you are a reader who has no desire to write, but happily consumes stories, I hope I have given insight into why I’m a writer, but not a very good promoter.
Otherwise, I hope you enjoy my quirky little foray into self-pity for not having any privacy. But then again, why would I whine about that? I should be used to it. After raising five kids, enjoying seventeen grandkids, plastering myself all over the internet, and writing about bloodthirsty Vikings, you’d think I wouldn’t mind walking naked down any street!
And feel free to comment. Wouldn’t mind hearing about you, the reader. 🙂
What would you do to accomplish a dream? You hear stories about it all the time. One advertiser cleverly took a twist on that and asked what would you do for a Klondike bar? Obviously we hold the goal of dreams high.
I know I did. When I first learned how to read I remember it was a great joy to be able to read the signs that went by on the highway. It seemed a wonderful secret that I was let in on. To this day, I prefer to communicate by the written word. To me, words are a tool, an art form. My mother could create rhyming poetry off the top of her head. My sister could draw and paint anything. Dad was a wizard of self-learning and mathematics. All I seemed to be able to do was read a lot.
As I got older and perfected the ability to communicate through the written word, I found another exciting mystery. I could create stories too. My teachers encouraged and gave me the hope that it was actually something I could do well.
Then, I was out on my own and raising children, working and keeping up a house were my sole focus. I kept my love of literature close, and quite often would escape into a good romance or two. At work, my writing skills were once again put to the test, as I wrote business letters, hospital policies, memos, advertising material, and even sent a few letters to senators.
Through it all there was a nagging thought at the back of my mind. It became a dream. I wanted to write a romance story. And not just any romance. I wanted to write about Vikings. Why would a quiet housewife and hardworking business woman be interested in Vikings? Well, have you ever worked in business? It truly is dog eat dog world, or, one Viking warrior against another!
I was fascinated by a lot of things and history was one of them. Loved the Egyptians, but the fierce, independent, wild and savage profile of a Viking caught my greatest curiosity. How did they survive in the barren north that could be more brutal than they could? What drove them to burst upon the world and take it by storm, not to conquer, but to find farmland? What made them so tough, independent yet have a code of ethics in battle that gave them hope their eternity would be filled with drinking and fighting? And yet this same ferocious, hardy people would become some of the most devout Christians and help in its spread.
They were a mystery and conundrum to me. I thought a romance between them could be a fascinating read. So for twenty years a cast of characters lived in my head. During long drives, long nights sitting beside sick kids, and any moment I could take to day dream, I would create scene after scene of a story that just wouldn’t go away,
So when I got a chance to retire and spend time with my husband, I took to social media, learned Word programing and started to finally live my dream of writing. I discovered I had waited long enough to realize a writer’s dream, the age of independent authors. No longer would I have to travel the road of rejection, but could write, edit and produce my own dream.
I was also smart enough to know it would still be a long road. I knew nothing about editing, formatting or how to promote. So I joined a few writer sites and started to learn, listen and write. I created a romance story based on something I knew about. Then I found a very talented editor. I was fortunate enough to find a formatter who could help me realize my dream by getting the book into Createspace. I studied Amazon and the mysterious algorithm, and then went on to Goodreads and finally the world of blogging.
Since I have started my journey I have seen the rise and fall of a plethora of media sites and learned what does and does not work for a writer. I have seen major changes in the book industry from the chant that the physical book was dead, to changing digital readers that morphed into smartphones which do it all now.
My first two books were done to learn the ropes. Now I got serious. Research files were created to be at my fingertips for referral. I built a library of physical books, filled with tags on certain subjects and timelines so I could quickly review. I spent a year at the computer ignoring the world around me as I created and freed the world I had trapped in my mind for many years.
Characters took on lives of their own. The plot changed and grew as they did. The original plot became buried under the will of my strong characters. And when that book was done, I realized the prologue was actually a story unto itself and was the start of it all. So I began to write a series, backwards.
Then life interrupted. My soul mate, encourager, supporter and lifeline in life, passed away from cancer. The real battle that had intruded into our marriage after only five years of being married, finally won twenty years later and Darrell was its casualty. His death took my heart, my will, my direction, and any desire to do anything, let alone achieve a lifelong dream.
He had been such a help in writing Norse Hearts. Many of the insults he had invented. We acted out sword play like two little kids so I could get a feel of how the body would have to move. He had patiently listened to each chapter as I read it out loud to catch any errors. Then when it was finished, he sat down and spent two weeks reading it, though he didn’t like to read because he was a slow reader.
The story was finished and had been edited by friend and editor. Yet is lay hidden in my computer as I went about putting my life pieces back together. But family, Facebook friends, life friends and an editor and widowed friend, would not let me quit.
More edits, formatting, beta readers and life coach, would eventually help me do CPR on my languishing world of Vikings. It was their very strength and stubborn will that help me to come back to this dream and move on.
In the wee house of 8-26-18, a weary formatter put in the last keystroke on the manuscript and Norse Hearts was born. It went right to the printer to be approved.
What does it take to realize a dream?
I don’t know. Determination? Stubbornness? Talent? Money? Time? Blood, sweat and Tears? Education? Passion? Family and Friends? Well, I would have to say all of these have been part of the journey, but none of these would have been enough on their own.
I think its Perseverance. That is the one ingredient at the root of achieving any dream. And who taught me that? Well in all those hours of studying the Vikings, it is the one thing I found most fascinating. They persevered all the time, against the elements, against the world, and against each other. They persevered, and now their DNA is spread all over the world.
So if you think it’s only a dream, and you can’t achieve it, I want you to look up the word perseverance.
When Vikings wrote, they used what we call runes. The word above is actually my name, Robynn. Not much is known about Vikings and they didn’t leave much behind in writing. Some have theorized they were not educated and so not many knew how to write. Some think that because they used less permanent writing materials, not much was left behind. Either way, we do know they did use runes and what is left behind can be found in carvings or stone.
They were a superstitious people. Words to them were magic and held great power. Maybe to write it down was to allow it to have a life of its own. But despite what we know or don’t know of them, we can fill in the holes with educated guessing. The study of anthropology shows us that there is a common thread among all of us. Ancient or current.
And one thing that has not changed, words do indeed, hold great power. They can build up. They can tear down. They can cast spells of unconfidence, low self-worth, and depression. Or they can build up, create joy and give us wings to fly.
The Vikings were not wrong about the power of words. We can be great magicians and take these words to create spellbinding stories of entertainment. Or we can take words and use them in great battles. Words can create laws and rules that curtail bad behavior before it starts, or use them to start a war that will cost human life.
Even with so much power, words still aren’t the best or only way to communicate. Here is an odd fact. In talking with another human face to face, we only hear about 35% of the words they say. The rest of the communication is taken in through instinctual feelings of how those words are said, eye contact and physical posturing. We all seem to know when something is said sincerely by how the other person looks at us, or the tone of their voice. So again, words only have the life we imbue them with.
Of course, the words you are now reading are inducing different feelings in you. For instance, your eyes are seeing and the brain is receiving and a whole lot of activity is going on as the brain sorts and make sense of everything. Depending on whether you are happy or sad at this moment, it will color these words with your opinion of what I, the writer, am trying to say. Get five people in a room and have them explain this very same paragraph and every one of them will understand it differently.
With all these filters going on, emotions, spiritual, understanding, deciphering, and opinions, it is amazing we can even communicate! Let alone get an idea across to another person
But words are a mighty power. Never forget that. Words carry a heavy responsibility. Every time you go to communicate either by the written word or the spoken word, you are carrying a huge power to do good or evil. To build up or tear down.
As I said before, Vikings treated their words with great care. The simple word “mare”, if used against another man, gave the one insulted the right to kill, on the spot, the one who had given insult. They went to great lengths to keep words from doing damage because it could be life or death for them. They understood the power of good and evil of words.
From the time I could talk I was also taught the responsibility my words carried. I find in the digital world ocean, words ebb and flow, or can crash with a tsunami’s devasting destruction. We need to heed our ancestors and recognize the power our words can wield in blogs and books. I can’t help but wonder if we used our words for the power of good all the time if this world wouldn’t be a much nicer place to live in, and the spell of peace could prevail.
My mother used to say, “Birds of a feather flock together.” As a child, it didn’t make much sense, but now, in this upheaval of political values, it is understandable. And you may wonder how this might then lead into thoughts about Vikings.
Well, they may have had the right answer to how to handle different political views and where my mother got that little idiotism of wisdom. They had no formal king in the beginning. In fact, when a king was finally instituted, a few of them, not wanting to give up their independence, moved to Iceland. Even to this day, the closest you will ever get to the Old Norse way of government is in Iceland where they may still have the best way of doing things.
When a few hardy souls decided to live in the fjords and treacherous mountains of Norway and Sweden, they formed independent little villages or homesteads. Often a family would just farm a little plot of land and if the children made it to adulthood, they would branch off and farm a little more of any available land next to the old homestead. As you can see this would present some problems when they ran out of land.
As little villages were loosely created, they were hemmed in by the lack of growth. The fjords are steep, the weather harsh and there was not much farmland. Their only form of easy transportation was boats so you can see where they might become expert seafarers. Then, most of their goods had to be traded for.
They lived off the sea as well as farmed. They were quite resourceful, they had to be. This, of course, fosters independence. They became traders long before a few wild individuals took to plundering. During those long dark nights of winter, they became quite the craftsmen.
So as their population grew, and it wasn’t quick with the high mortality rate they faced, eventually little towns sprung up throughout Scandinavia. Of course, they didn’t have much communication with other little hamlets, so each village became its own unit. The strongest male there would usually hold a position of being the final say.
So let’s say one family had a grievance with another over property lines. In the fall, usually during the final harvest, the nearby villages would get together to celebrate. There were many names for this gathering, like Althing, or the Thing. Remember each village developed its own beliefs and customs, but this was a pretty common event. Several heads of families would get together and hear out individual complaints. It was a court of sorts. So the two families feuding over property would bring this before the judges and they would hear the case, then the gathered crowd would vote on whatever decision the judges came up with.
Some historians will claim this was where democracy was born. Others say it’s the purest form of democracy and still exists in Iceland today. Due to the little villages being so isolated from one another, each one developed into its own little government. Beliefs varied from village to village as well as customs. But once a year they could come together and work out their differences.
Actually, this is the way of the human race. Even now we see in each country factions of belief and values breaking off, forming groups. The Vikings were a little smarter about it though. If they really couldn’t agree on something, even with their peaceful harvest get-togethers every year, they finally resorted to the sword as the final say. They truly were Darwin’s first real test of his theory of survival of the fittest.
Interestingly though, the Vikings also valued life above all else, especially since so few of them ever made it past 40. Children were considered precious. So again, it behooved them to settle a matter before it came to the fight.
I find the Vikings fascinating in many ways. They were truly a unique group. But when it came to government, we could learn a few things from them. Unfortunately, it also shows that no matter the system chosen, humans will always be contentious and want it their way. History truly is the best teacher.
If a Viking man spouted poetry to a love interest, he could lose his life. Why? As with everything about the Vikings, there is only tantalizing little clues. Through the Poetic Edda, an oral history that wasn’t written down until the 13th century, we see glimpses of everyday life. It has been speculated this rule was to keep men from falsely leading a maiden on. Or possibly it wasn’t considered manly for a Viking warrior to spout soft words of love.
Most Viking marriages were arranged much like a modern company merger. There were strict rules about property and how the bride’s dowry would be dispersed. Viking women had more rights and freedoms than any of their counterparts at that time in history. This would have been due to their traveling husbands. Viking men were traders, leaving in the spring and wandering all summer long while the world was ice free. The return rates weren’t all that great back then. Between the dangers of ship travel, diseases in foreign lands, and raiding, a Viking man might never return.
So the Viking woman ran things at home. She had to oversee the livestock, production of crops and profit. While she was at it, she also prepared meals and made things for around the house. There was no local Wal-Mart to help out. It was a tough life. For this reason, all land inheritance was usually passed down through the woman.
With various gods, traditions, and superstitions, a marriage ceremony usually lasted on average, nine days. The Vikings had a thing about the number nine. There was drinking and feasting of course, along with rituals to entice the gods to give fertility, wealth and health. Quite often family swords were exchanged, and proof given that the marriage was consummated.
Another interesting concept − Viking woman could divorce easily. All she had to do was stand next to the bed shared with her husband and in front of three witnesses, simply say out loud three times, “I divorce thee.” Yup, it was that easy. Maybe that is why the men treated their women so well.
While monogamy was practiced, it wasn’t set in stone. If the man was lusty and wealthy enough, and his wife agreed to it, he could take a second wife. It was nothing to own several slaves as well. In fact, he was encouraged by his loving wife, to have a slave for copulation during her later months of pregnancy.
What of possible bastard offspring? Those long summer days did get a little lonely while Olaf was gone. Unfortunately, if a woman conceived while her husband was away, he had the right to deny feeding or clothing any offspring. When a baby was born, if the head of the household did not claim it on the ninth day, the baby was ‘exposed,’ meaning it was left to die in the forest.
The first time I actually immersed myself in a romance novel I felt like I was eavesdropping on people who were falling in love, and it started an addiction.
I prefer a character-driven historical romance. The birds and bees operation of making babies is great, but I like to get to know the characters and what makes them tick. Learning their faults, strengths and wondering how they are ever going to get together with all the problems in the way. I love learning the history of the time and seeing it through their eyes.
For years, as I dreamed of writing my own stories. I had one story that was the most persistent of the brood of ideas. I’ve always been fascinated by the Viking people, back before it became cool. I thought a Viking historical romance would be awesome.
As with all of this writing stuff, I have found I’m quite naïve. Ever wondered how you go about writing a historical novel? They say write what you know for a reason. It is hard to describe something you have never seen or done.
I’ve studied the subject of Vikings and their history, and it seemed easy enough. Throw in a few Viking sounding names, and a few sword fights and you have it. Right?
I found it harder to do the research than the actual writing. First, you need to find a time period. Then, you have to find out what was the political climate, who was in charge. Kings? Dictators? Governments? What battles were going on?
Once you determine how that fits into your plot, then you decide on names. Of course, they need to be period correct if you want an actual historical feel to it. Then there is religion, customs, foods, and daily living. What were their tools called? What was the wildlife they would be eating? Since it is set in Norway I was surprised to find they had different flora and fauna than, of course, someplace like North America, where I’ve lived all my life.
Next, there is clothing. Did they make it? Where did they get the materials? What were their houses like? The weather? Oh, wait! Are there different time zones and climates than where I live? What were the names of the towns of that time? Did you know that Selby, England was called Seletun in the Viking times? Or what is now York, was called Eoforwic? How do you pronounce them? How long did it take them to get across the North Sea? What were their trading routes?
My favorite was the day I had to actually Google, “How to Curse in Norse.” I found they didn’t use our short little words. Nope, they made insults an art form. Actually, entertainment called “flyting!” No joke. One of my favorite lines, “You are a drinker of sheep piss,” has entertained me for hours!
I’m deathly afraid of water. Traveling by boat is not something I ever want to do. I found it humorous I was going to have to learn about boats because that was the Vikings main mode of transportation. How fast were the ships? What were they built of? How were they designed? How many people could fit on one? How did they do long sea crossings? What did they eat? The questions are endless and so were the books and videos I perused to learn about it.
At first, when I started out, I would write one sentence and then spend the next hour looking up history or spellings. I have since gotten into the swing of things. I have built quite an organized research set-up. I learned to write out the scene and star the things I need to go back and check out. Then insert facts and figures later on. That went much smoother. I found it hard to break out of my little world of the past, to go to the local grocery store for food, after I’ve spent a half hour explaining how they cut up and cooked reindeer, or prepared lutefisk from dried fish.
Now, the journey is complete. The editing, beta reading, and formatting are done. Norse Hearts is ready to be printed and go out into the world. After all this time living with Einar, Seraphina, Dagfinn and Jarl Roald, I feel like I’m saying goodbye to a family. I am nervous about their debut and I hope they will entertain all of you as much as they entertained me.
For you, I hope when you are done reading it you will have laughed, cried, worried, fallen in love and become an expert on the Viking life of 760 AD. And enjoyed the journey so much you can’t wait for the next Viking epic, Assassin Hearts.
One thing for certain, I feel sorry for my High School History teacher and how hard she tried to teach me history. I have far more respect for her. If she was around to read this book, I know I would have impressed her and received an A!
Look for the release of Norse Hearts at the following links:
Recently I decided to raise awareness of the upcoming release of “Norse Hearts” by entering the cover in Little Book Corner’s Book Cover contest on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/littlebookcornerpage
Thank you to all who came out and voted! I am touched and very appreciative of your support. Now I would like to give you a little reward for your effort.
The following is the first chapter of the soon-to-be-released, “Norse Hearts.” Enjoy!!
Norse Hearts – Chapter 1 – The Raid
“That which has a bad beginning is likely to have a bad ending.”
Britain – 760 AD
Einar stood in the ship’s bow as its oars sliced the water in perfect unison, powering the ship effortlessly towards the riverbank. Uneasily, he rubbed the back of his neck. There would be no honor to Odin in what they were about to do. Watching the giant man at the steering tiller, he waited. At the helmsman’s nod, Einar raised his arm in a silent signal. The oarsmen quietly pulled in the sculls through the oar locks. The dragon ship’s momentum sent her bow onto the shore with a hiss. He glanced over as a second ship, with a larger, ornately carved bow, slipped in beside them.
Leaping ashore, the men took on solid form in the ghostly fog. Woolen cloaks covered their broad shoulders and leather tunics studded in various designs of worked metal. Heavy brows pulled into fierce intent and created granite profiles framed by beards. Unhooking their shields from the railing of the ship, those who had swords slid them into wide leather belts or scabbards. Others carried heavy war axes. They shoved helmets—wrought into fiendish metal faces—over wild sea-salted hair.
Church bells pealed, sounding hushed in the fog, as they called to the faithful for evening vespers.
All went silent.
Then, from far off, Einar heard something faint and growing steadily louder: a deep-throated singing—people chanting. Rolling through the humid air, their voices rose in ethereal waves.
The band of warriors moved silently around the trees. Finally reaching the edge of the forest, Einar saw a small, grassy incline with the chapel and monastery at the top. The little hamlet of Seletun had the only church on this stretch of the River Ouse. The stained-glass windows in the sanctuary glowed with jeweled colors. Quickly scanning the area, he saw that there was no challenge. It looked like there were riches to be had here, but he had no desire to kill unless in the heat of battle. In this moment, he was simply being loyal in following his jarl’s orders.
Time slowed as the choir’s chant gave an unholy rhythm to the sounds of creaking leather and the warriors’ heavy breathing. With brightly colored shields, black shadows for eyes under helmets, and swords or battle-axes now in hand, it looked as if heaven and hell were about to collide.
The chant ended just as Einar and his horde hit the chapel doors. Crashing into the sanctuary, he stared at the worshipers’ startled faces. The monk turned from the altar and froze in fear. Women raised their hands to their mouths that had opened in screams. The faithful scrambled to their feet to escape their impending doom. With an animal-like howl, his shield in front of him and his sword held high, Einar led the charge as they fell upon the hapless victims.
Terrified monks pushed over an iron-wrought candelabrum as they fled from the invaders. Flames crept up the heavy tapestries hanging behind the altar, adding the acrid smell of smoke to the carnage’s hellish glow. The warriors struggled and fought with any who stood against them. Their swords’ bright glint was now dulled by blood from those hacked without pity.
Einar’s gaze swept the front pews, noting a kneeling woman. Her bowed head was covered in auburn plaits. A fur-rimmed brown cloak, held together with a large gold brooch, draped over her thin shoulders. He strode forwards, catching an arm, and pulled her up, looking into her fear-widened eyes. He stared for a second at a plain silver cross that hung from her neck and then tore it from her violently. Reaching for the gold brooch, he ripped it from the cloak. Shoving her aside, she fell to the floor with a thin scream.
He whirled, facing the cry that had erupted behind him. A slim girl with copper-tinted hair ran past him, kneeling at the woman’s side, helping her to sit up. He watched a peasant rush the chapel door, and a single slash by the Norseman guarding it sent him into eternity. In the confusion, a monk who had a blonde, petite woman clinging to him screamed as she watched her family and friends die. Einar saw one of his men raise an axe to forever quiet the blonde, but the kneeling redhead lurched to her feet and darted forwards. Shoving the monk and the girl behind her, she glared at the warrior with her arms spread wide, protecting them. The sword hung in midair as the Norseman hesitated, startled by her defiance.
The twinkle of jewels caught Einar’s eye as the cross around her neck swung with the swirl of her cloak. He grasped the warrior’s axe hand, speaking roughly, “Gunnar, hold! She is the one we seek.”
Glancing at the weeping blonde, Einar snapped out, “Spare them. Slaves bring good profit, and we still have room for a few more.” His eyes narrowed as his gaze raked over the redheaded vixen. Her breast rose rapidly with quick breaths, anger setting her face in hard lines. A tan wool cloak, edged with gold embroidery and lined with fur, covered her slight frame. Without another word, Einar grabbed her arm and yanked her against him, fingering the gold cross, staring into her wide green eyes.
“Slitting her throat would lose us a chance of a better profit in ransom. I am taking her with us.”
Gunnar ground out angrily, “Then I claim first rights to her.”
Einar shot back, “No, she is mine. Take the other two.”
He watched Gunnar’s brow furrow and his knuckles whiten as he gripped his axe handle before bringing it down on a bench with a dull thud, the wood splintering. Kicking at the shattered bench, Gunnar pulled the axe loose. Looking at the trembling blonde who still clung to the monk, Einar heard him grunt, seemingly unimpressed with what was left. Slipping the axe handle into a leather loop on his belt, Gunnar grabbed them, joining him.
The redhead beat at Einar with her fist, screaming, “Nay, nay, let me go!” He tightened his hold on her wrist, smiling grimly to himself when he heard her sudden gasp.
Heading out of the church, the warriors grabbed everything of value and quickly searched the bodies lying about for anything of worth. Einar led the horde as they made their way back to the dragon ships, going a little slower for the captives taken and the loot carried. A few Norsemen trailed behind to discourage anyone who found the bravery to get back what had been stolen. The only noise in the foggy evening was the heavy breathing of men fired up from battle and the occasional whimper from the prisoners.
A few of the monks who escaped had gone into the bell tower, and clanging tones now called for help from the village.
Impatiently, Einar tugged on the struggling girl to hurry her along. Breaking from the forest’s edge, he almost lost his grip on the arm he was clutching. Grunting, he turned around, seeing she had wrapped her free arm around a slim tree trunk and dug her heels into the damp soil. Teeth clenched, her lips curled back, and her green eyes had a feral gleam.
“Nay. Nay!” she cried as he increased the pressure on her wrist again. Suddenly, she let go of the tree and braced both feet against his calf, throwing herself back. Her move startled him, and for a brief second, her hand slipped in his grasp. Twisting, she kicked up with her right foot between his thighs. White-hot pain seared through his groin, the air in his pain-constricted lungs leaving in a whoosh through his clenched teeth. His grip loosened while he instinctively sought to clutch his injured manhood. Wrenching free, she fled like a startled rabbit.
Suddenly, Gunnar’s laughter turned into a shout. “After her! She is the lord’s daughter!”
Gunnar had a head start on him, but Einar scrambled over damp rocks, stumbling through the deadfall littering the ground, until he came across a small path. Up ahead was a small meadow, and he watched her run across it, thinking that if he wasn’t in so much pain, he might appreciate the deer-like grace she had in full flight. She definitely knew the forest and had the advantage.
Still limping, he watched Gunnar gain on her. They both disappeared into the woods. His ragged breathing sounded harsh in his ears as he tried concentrating on any nearby noise. Tripping over a tree root, he muttered, “By all that is Thor’s, if he does not beat you, I will!”
Suddenly, he heard a loud shriek and a muffled “umph” as something hit the forest floor. Pushing past the pain, he started jogging. Finally reaching the forest’s edge, he saw Gunnar stretched out over the girl’s small frame. He had both hands imprisoned above her head as his weight pressed her flailing legs into the moist earth.
“Gnògr!” Gunnar growled.
Einar noticed the girl’s sudden stillness, and before he could call out, Gunnar shifted his weight, holding her wrists with one hand while his other hand slipped down her cheek, resting on her throat. The girl tried to move her knee to escape, and suddenly, his fingers tightened, cutting off her air. She froze again, and Gunnar loosened his hand and slid it down over her body, checking out the soft curves.
“Get off of me, you filthy lout! Murderer!” she shouted, struggling wildly again.
“Shhhh,” Gunnar hissed in her ear, pressing her against the ground with his full weight to stop her from moving again.
“Gunnar!” Einar barked.
Gunnar looked up, his brow wrinkling in anger. “What? I caught her, and I have claimed her—again—since you can not seem to hold her.”
“I have first claim and am holding her for ransom. Get off her.”
“Let me have a few minutes; then you can have her back, if you can keep her.” A smirk covered his face.
“Ekki! Let her loose now. Her ransom will cover the worm’s debt. Will you interfere with the jarl’s profit?”
“She is mine!” Gunnar spit back.
Folding his arms over his chest and leaning a shoulder into a tree, Einar stared impassively down at Gunnar. “Fine. You explain to the jarl why she is no longer a maid and why we have nothing to bargain with. I will wait here until you are finished.” He noticed that the girl had stopped struggling, watching the two of them intently. Finally, with a glare, Gunnar brought up his knee beside her hip, still holding her wrists, and with a rough jerk, he drew her up with him as he stood.
“I am not conceding my claim,” he snarled, pushing the girl towards Einar.
Pulling a length of leather from his belt, Einar quickly wrapped it around her wrists, binding her hands before her. Tugging at the length of remaining leather, he started back down the path as Gunnar walked behind, pushing if she slowed.
“You heathen swine! Give me one moment with that fancy sword on your back and I will hack you to pieces. You are nothing but thieving barbarians with pig dung for brains. Lord Allard will see to it you are nothing but food for worms.”
Einar glanced back at her, one eyebrow raised in surprise. Quite a bloodthirsty little thing, he mused. Maybe this is why her betrothed wanted her dead. He could see how her fiery temper might be daunting for a pasty-white worm like Cecil Allard. But Einar found her insults to be quite entertaining.
When the dragon ships came into view, the little vixen planted her feet—having caught her breath and strength—and started fighting again. Gunnar’s laughter grated across his nerves.
In one swift turn and scoop, he slung her over his shoulder. Putting his arm around her legs, he kept her still. She beat against his back with her bound hands and screamed.
“You son of a boar! Murdering heathen! Put me down!”
Loud laughter from the warriors around the boats drifted up, only adding to her agitation. A young, lanky warrior came up alongside him.
“I see you caught her. She sounds like a cat in season. If they did not hear the bells, they certainly will hear her.”
Einar grunted. With a few long strides, he reached the dragon ship. Her shifting movements and the tug on the scabbard strapped across his back warned him that she was trying to pull the sword out. Suddenly, Einar dropped his shoulder, dumping her on the ground. She took a deep breath to scream, but his large, rough hand descended over her mouth, cutting it off. He felt her lips pull back as she bared her teeth to bite, but he pressed her head against the side of the boat, his hand pushing against her mouth.
He said to the lanky warrior beside him, “Tell her to cease.”
“Why? You can speak Angles just as well as I can.”
Einar glared at him. “Do it.”
Stepping up, the Norseman spoke quietly in the girl’s language. “Ladye, if you do not cease your struggles, Einar will bind and gag you.”
Taking his hand away from her mouth, Einar’s fingers grasped her arm in a tight grip.
The girl stilled, staring at the warrior who had spoken. She took a deep breath and spoke softly. “How is it you speak as I?”
Einar watched Dagfinn pull his shoulders back and straighten. “I was born in this land and once was slave to the Norp weg. I am now called Dagfinn, shield hand to Einar Herjolfsson, your new master.”
Her eyes opened wide as she stared at the youth for a few seconds.
“I . . . I am no one’s property! I will not be anyone’s slave. Tell your lord to slay me now.” She drew herself up, squaring her shoulders, and stared into the dark holes of Einar’s helmet, seeking out the eyes behind it to convey her defiance.
Einar chuckled. “She is worth more alive. Quite dramatic, is she not?”
“Ladye, Einar refuses to slay you. A dead slave brings no profits,” Dagfinn said, a smile quirking at the edges of his lips.
“My father, Lord Landis Forthred, will pay him, if this is about coin. I am to be married tomorrow. My dowry is substantial, and my father will meet his demands,” she said, standing straighter, pushing her chin out.
Einar’s intense gaze sized her up.
Gunnar joined them, leaning against the side of the boat. “If what she says is true, there are several Forthreds who are related to the King of Northumbria. They can well afford a large ransom, but we have to meet with Roald in a fortnight, and he may not appreciate the problems she brings. Or did you think about any of that before you spared her?”
He gazed coldly back at his stepbrother. “We held our end of the bargain. She is gone—he does not have to marry her—but he did not hold up his end, so she will pay his debt, one way or another. You would pass up a chance for increased profit?”
“I think she would make a wonderfully obedient wife; do you not agree, Einar?” Dagfinn replied with a wolfish grin.
A scowl darkened Einar’s face. “Boy, if your sword arm was as quick as your wit, I would not need half of my men.”
Sudden silence fell between them as they stared at her. The girl shifted, her hands twisting in the bindings. Einar finally snarled out, “We need to go.”
Dagfinn translated quickly. “We are leaving. He will consider your offer.”
She beat her bound hands against her legs, the fingers laced and white as she spit out, “Did you not tell him I am to be married tomorrow? The lout can speak to my father now!”
Einar grabbed the leather lead; she pulled back against it, stomping her foot to emphasize her words. “I will not go. I must marry Lord Allard tomor . . . .”
Her words were muffled as Einar suddenly grabbed a length of leather from his belt and turned her around, his brawny forearm crushing her against his chest. She started to scream, but he shoved a rough piece of leather into her mouth, tying it off behind her head as she thrashed. Trying to shriek around the gag, she choked. She brought up her elbows, shoving into his gut. He caught his breath, scooping her up and pressing her against his chest, squeezing the air from her lungs.
“Move it, boy!” Einar ordered Dagfinn. “I am tired of her beating me like a dog!”
Gunnar’s laughter rang out as Dagfinn quickly tied another piece of leather around her ankles while she kicked, hampering the efforts. Einar lifted the squirming bundle up to several of the men in the ship, and they dumped her against the wooden mast.
The sound of wood clacking against wood sounded muffled in the fogged air as Einar and his men hung their shields along the gunwale of the ship. Nimbly vaulting up and into the ship, he made his way to the bow, meeting the glare of the bound and gagged redhead. Seating themselves on wooden trunks, his crew set the oars on end, waiting for his signal. Loot and other captives had been put in the holding area at the base of the dragon ship’s tall mast, and the captives knelt with their hands bound, their faces reflecting misery, fear, and shock.
Einar raised his hand, and, as one, the crew slid the sculls out into the water. Glancing up, he watched the ghostly forms of trees slipping by the dragon ship as it moved silently through the fog. The mist rolled around them in a moist caress as the proud bow disappeared into the gray.