This is an extract from my latest work, Jealousy of a Viking. It follows Helgha, a descendant of Adelbehrt from Vengeance of a Slave.
At the beginning of the book, Helgha helps young man, Erik, who is lost in the forest and finds him very attractive. She begins to have dreams of a life with him, but her father has arranged a marriage with a neighbour’s son.
One morning, about ten days after Erik’s final departure, her father came to her. ‘I’ve chosen a husband for you. I’ve decided on Gunnar Janson’s son. I spoke with Gunnar yesterday and he is in agreement.’
Helgha hung her head. She must obey her father, but her dream of becoming Erik’s wife dissolved as she foresaw a life lived with a man she did not like.
Gunner Janson’s son will not make any woman a good husband. On the few occasions they met, he had treated her with disdain. He did not seem to like women and had told her once that he thought them weak. They did not know how to fight, and fighting was life.
But she must do as her father said and so she whispered, ‘Yes, father’, hoping she sounded acquiescent, but a feeling of tightness encompassed her chest, and her hands clenched involuntarily.
Helgha took a deep breath then carried on with her tasks with a heavy heart. She would have to obey her father, but all her dreams of a life with Erik came crashing down around her ears. Thoughts of rebellion flashed through her mind but immediately disappeared. She did not know if Erik felt the same way. Most probably he did not. They had been beautiful dreams though.
Crushing those thoughts, she left the longhouse and walked to the well. Hearing the drumming of hooves on the road, she looked up. Her stomach turned over and her heart beat faster as Erik rode through the gate. He slid from his horse and jogged over to where she stood. Taking the buckets from her he looked into her eyes. Helgha thought she saw something there. Something that made her think her dreams were not in vain.
‘Hello, Helgha,’ Erik said, then looked away.
Had she imagined what she saw in his eyes? ‘Hello, Erik.” She felt redness creeping up her neck and infusing her face.
Leaving the other women who were at the well staring after them, the pair walked to the house in silence.
Why had he come? Surely her dream had not come true and he intended to ask for her hand in marriage. He must have some other reason to come here. Yes, that was it. He was on his way somewhere else and stopped at Thoringsby because it was convenient.
They entered the house, Erik following Helgha. He put the buckets down and spoke to Aedelflaed. ‘Thank you for your hospitality the other week. I would not be alive now if it weren’t for your kindness.’
Aedelflaed smiled at the young man. ‘No thanks are necessary. We did what anyone would do. You could have been killed by wolves or bears out there in the dark.’
‘I have something for you. To thank you. Wait a moment and I’ll go and get it.’ Erik ducked through the door, and a moment later returned with his saddlebags over his arm.
First, for you, Aedelflaed, I have this.’ He handed over a necklace of glass beads.
Aedelflaed gasped. ‘This is beautiful, Erik.’
‘It was made in Jorvik. We don’t make much glass there, but what we do is usually made into beads or rings, and is of fine quality. Now, for Biorn I’ve got some wine. I’m sure he’ll enjoy it when he comes in.’
Helgha smiled at the thought. Biorn drank more ale than wine, but she felt sure he would enjoy the change.
Erik pulled something else from his saddlebags. ‘For Hartvigg I have this wooden sword. He needs to learn how to fight like a true Dane. I have a Kubb set for Laeff and for Sighmund this toy boat.’ Then he turned and smiled at Helgha. Her stomach turned somersaults. ‘And for you, this amber necklace. The amber comes all the way from the Baltic Sea.’
Helgha blushed as Erik fastened it round her neck, and she looked at her mother.
Aedelflaed frowned. Helgha knew what thoughts passed through her mind. Like the ones passing through her own head. Why had Erik brought her such a valuable gift? Did he want to court her? Neither she nor her parents knew anything about him. He appeared to be well off if his clothing were anything to go by. But would Erik’s father want his son to marry someone from a family of lower status?
Helgha sighed, pushing those thoughts away. If it were the case that Erik wanted to marry her, then his father would speak to hers. She would be the last to know.
After this, he came every week on some pretext or other, but no message arrived from his father to Biorn suggesting a marriage. Erik, however, behaved as if he and Helgha were already betrothed.
One day, Biorn tackled Erik on this subject. Helgha held her breath, half-hoping Erik would say his father would send a message to Biorn about a betrothal.
‘You’ve been coming here a lot, Erik,’ Biorn said. ‘You spend a lot of time with Helgha, but we’ve heard nothing from your father about a betrothal.’
Erik went red and hung his head. ‘I would truly like to be betrothed to your daughter, but my father would never agree. You cannot pay the dowry he would expect.’
Biorn’s face grew dark, and his eyes flashed. ‘You come here courting my daughter, yet you have no intention of marrying her. This is an insult to my family.’
Helgha held her breath as Erik continued to look at the floor. ‘I mean no insult to you, Biorn. My father will not agree to me marrying Helgha, but if I could, I would do so.’ He looked up and into Biorn’s eyes. ‘I’m afraid my father wishes me to marry someone who can bring wealth and influence to our family. Someone, I suspect, who is closer to Halfdan than he is.’
‘Then this means I will have to defend the honour of my family. I will not have you dishonour my sons and myself.’ He went to the wall and took down his shield and battle axe. ‘I must kill you. You have insulted my family. Have you amused yourself with my Helgha? Is she ruined?’
Erik faced Biorn. ‘Should we not fight outside?
Biorn grunted. Helgha stood with her hands over her mouth and her eyes wide. As the two men went through the door, she ran after them screaming.
‘No! No! No!. Don’t fight over me. Please. Father, don’t kill him.’
She rushed over to Biorn and tried to pull his axe from his hands.
He shoved her away. ‘This is man’s business. Go back to your mother.’
Helgha fell to the floor, scrambled up and ran back towards the longhouse. Her mother appeared through the door.
‘Mother! Stop them. They’ll kill each other.’
Her mother looked at her. ‘One of them will kill the other. That’s the way it is. Erik has insulted our family by coming here as if to court you, but making no offers. Your father has to have his honour satisfied. If he fails, then it will be up to your brothers to kill Erik when they are old enough.’
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