I’m thrilled to announce the publication of my Viking novella, Banished on August 17th.
Vikings evoke images of strong men who allow nothing to stand in their way. They’re not normally associated with tender feelings. Wildflowers conjure more personal and sentimental images. In BANISHED, a handful of bluebells picked from a meadow by childhood sweethearts becomes a symbol and eventually an acknowledgement of a love long denied.
The setting for this story is the court of King Canute, a Dane who ruled England in the eleventh century.
The wild, eerie landscape of Dartmoor provides the perfect backdrop for the dark, magical events leading up to the exciting climax.
This 40,000 word novella was previously published as part of the Sirens of the Northern Seas anthology.
Here’s the first chapter.
Oxenaforda, England, January, 1017 AD
Narrowing her eyes against the thick woodsmoke in King Canute’s langhus, Audra feigned interest in the chatter of the other women gathered around the hearth. They ignored her and Gertruda. Women in gambesons tended to make such courtiers nervous. They were foreign creatures, fawning on Queen Elfgifu with their fluttering eyelashes and simpering manners.
Out of the corner of her eye she noticed a well-muscled warrior stroll in with an older man, likely his father judging by the resemblance. The nagging certainty that both were familiar prompted her to risk a second glance.
Otherwise she wouldn’t have been interested. Men were all muscle and no brain. The boisterous, bragging throng amid which she sat was living proof of their priorities: drinking, wenching, plundering and killing, usually in that order. On this night of feasting in celebration of Canute’s coronation many also manoeuvred for positions of influence in the new regime.
Before the night was over, disagreements would probably result in the death of some unfortunate. It was the Viking way.
Her father loomed out of nowhere, tankard of mead in hand, and spat at the hard-packed dirt floor. “Haraldsen,” he muttered, cocking his head in the direction of the new arrivals before loping off into the crowd.
Memory washed over her. Of course. Alvar Haraldsen and his son, the boy she’d grown up with in Jomsborg a lifetime ago, and thought never to meet again. She’d had a family then. As little children do, she and Sigmar had pledged to each other, sworn to marry. But that was before the blood feud had erupted between their families.
“You know him,” Gertruda said.
Audra looked into her perceptive comrade’s eyes. “You see too much,” she replied with a half smile.
Gertruda shrugged. “It’s the reason I’m still alive. He’s the one you told me about.”
Audra stared into the glowing embers of the hearth fire, remembering the day the horror of the feud was unleashed. Sigmar had just pecked a kiss on her cheek and shyly presented a handful of bluebells picked from the meadow. They shared a birthday, his twelfth, her tenth, and he knew they were her favorite.
The hollow stems withered in her crushing grip as she watched his angry father drag him away. Minutes later she learned of the murder of her brother and was ordered never to play with her friend again. Within a fortnight all their older brothers had been killed, and both mothers were dead from grief. It was more than a child’s heart could bear.
But these were memories she didn’t want to share, even with Gertruda, the one woman who knew more about her than anyone. She swallowed the lump constricting her throat. “The strict code of the Jomsviking brotherhood condemned strife between its members,” she explained, though her comrade was already aware of the story. “We were cast out when Fingal and Alvar refused to reconcile. Fader and I fled east to the Steppes of Kievan Rus. I never saw Sigmar again—until today.”
“He’s tall,” Gertruda observed with a sly smile, “even for a Viking, and whoever fashioned his war braids knows a thing or two about how to do it.”
Gertruda was right. Many men in the gathering sported war braids but none were as tightly braided nor as decoratively beaded as Sigmar’s. An unexpected pang of jealousy pierced her heart. He must a have a doting wife.
Audra fiddled with the fraying edge of her sleeve. “The scrawny boy has grown. No wonder I didn’t recognize him immediately.”
He was almost as tall and broad as the newly-crowned king who held court at the far end of the langhus. Both men were fair of hair and complexion, but Canute’s nose was thin and hooked, whereas Sigmar’s features were pleasing.
He smiled readily as he exchanged greetings with acquaintances. She’d missed that crooked smile. “Perhaps he’s been in England all these years,” she mused aloud.
“Maybe,” Gertruda replied, “though people from every part of the North Sea Empire are gathered to witness the English grovel before their new Danish king.”
Unexpectedly, Sigmar glanced in Audra’s direction. She turned her back quickly, sweat trickling down her spine. Hearth fires had been lit in the recently constructed langhus to ward off winter’s chill. “Seems to me the builders haven’t provided adequate air for this overcrowded space,” she grumbled.
Gertruda grinned. “I’m sure that’s the reason you’re overheated.”
Audra pushed away the elbow her comrade dug in her ribs and studied the chattering courtiers again. She doubted any of them had ever cut a man’s throat. Not that Audra killed for pleasure. It was a question of survival. Her family’s sons were all dead. Her father had eventually convinced Vladimir the Great of the merits of an elite shield-maiden guard. She’d had no choice but to live up to his vision of her future.
She prayed Sigmar hadn’t recognized her, and that if he had he would keep away. It wouldn’t take much to rekindle the flames of the old feud in her father’s heart. She didn’t want to be the one to kill her childhood friend.
(COMING IN SEPTEMBER: A FREE collection of short stories by bestselling Viking romance authors. My contribution will be THE MESSENGER. The story has a strong connection to BANISHED, but that’s all I’ll say for now.)