On Saturday I sent the manuscript of Jealousy of a Viking to my publisher. This one has been long in the making. I don’t know why, but I seemed to want to go over it and over it.
Eventually I decided I had to bite the bullet and send it, so there it is—residing with the publisher until they can get around to dealing with it.
I know they have a load of books to publish, but it’s this waiting time I find so difficult. I’ll let you know as soon as I know something, of course. When that will be, who knows.
This book tells the story of Helgha, a young Viking girl who has to come to terms with jealousy both in herself and her lover’s wife.
This eventually leads to disaster, of course.
When I know a bit more of what is happening I’ll let you know, but until then, here’s a taster.
Helgha wrinkled her nose while digging up the bulbs of the ramsons plants. The pungent smell that arose as she dug tickled her nostrils. She looked at her spoils, decided she had gathered enough and picked up her basket.
The sun was sinking toward the horizon making the shadows of the trees creep like hands reaching to grab her. She shivered. Soon the wolves would be hunting.
A swishing sound, like footsteps in the dead leaves fallen from the trees sounded in her ears. She whirled around, her ash blonde hair whipping her face. No one from her village would be coming from that direction. The road led deeper into the forest and all the villagers would be at home now. Could it be an outlaw? Strangers were not to be trusted.
She looked around. She should not have stopped to gather the extra ramsons, even though, with the winter approaching, it would be needed for the inevitable coughs and colds.
Helgha listened. A blackbird scrabbled in the leaves under a small bush. A squirrel chattered at her from high in the tree above, angry at her presence. She drew her brows together. What had she heard?
Concentrating, she discerned a voice muttering, but could not make out the words. Who was this person speaking to? Did it mean more than one person approached? She looked at the shadows of the trees. They would help to hide her, but her walk back to the village would be in near darkness; dangerous for a girl out alone.
A young man leading a grey horse appeared from around a bend in the road. He murmured to the animal as he walked. Seeing the stranger, Helgha backed toward the bushes at the edge of the track. She hoped to make herself invisible in the shadows, but his eyes turned in her direction, the movement giving her away.
“Hey,” He looked toward where Helgha had pushed her way into the undergrowth. “Can you help me? I’m lost.”
Helgha backed farther into the bushes looking for somewhere to run. Perhaps the narrow animal track behind her would lead to a wider one where she could make her escape and run back to Thoringsby.
The branches snatched at her long skirts. I wish I were a man. Then I’d wear breeches. She pulled her grey woollen overdress from an elder bush.
The man called again. “I won’t hurt you. I only want to find a way out of this endless forest and back on the road to Jorvik.”
Helgha stopped. She could not go any farther. A large bramble bush prickled her back, its thorns penetrating the woollen cloak she wore.
The man dropped the horse’s reins and animal stopped, obedient to the signal. The stranger walked toward where he had seen Helgha before she pressed into the undergrowth.
“I understand why you’re afraid. I know strangers can be scary.” He smiled, making his grey eyes light up. “My name’s Erik.” He stopped walking and continued to speak. “I’m assuming there’s a farm or a village ahead and that’s where you’ve come from.”
Helgha stepped out from the bramble bush. She had to wrest her cloak free from the wicked thorns trying to pull her back. The man had seen her, so it was no use pretending she was not there. If he wanted to he could come after her. Anyway, she could go no farther with the dense brambles blocking her way.
“My home is a few minutes away.”
“Will you help me find a way out of the forest?”
Helgha looked at the man. He had light brown hair, a beard and a long moustache, as did most of the Danish men. His clothes looked of good quality and an expensive brooch pinned his cloak at the shoulder. She estimated him to be about eighteen years old—a few years older than herself.
As she looked at him, a hundred butterflies took flight in her stomach. She pressed her fist against it to try to stop their fluttering wings.
He’s not a beggar, nor even a poor man. Certainly not an outlaw, dressed in those clothes. And he has a friendly face. A handsome face. He’s lost as well.
She made a decision to help this man. As she began walking along the road, she beckoned Erik to follow. He picked up the reins and pulled his horse forward. It shook its head as if in denial before beginning to follow.
Helgha stopped and walked back to where the reluctant horse limped forward. She patted the animal talking gently to it. “You’re a beauty, aren’t you. Does your leg hurt?”
She turned to Erik. “What happened to your horse?”
“She tripped over something as we followed some game. I hope she’s not done too much damage to her leg. She’s a good horse.”
Helgha smiled. “Father’ll have a look at her when we get home. He’s good with horses. Have you walked far?”
“It seems like hundreds of miles.” He shrugged. “But it’s probably only a few.”
“How did you come to be lost?”
“My friends and I went hunting. As we cantered along, Stjarna tripped. The others rode on and I started to return to Jorvik. We’d ridden into a part of the forest we didn’t know—chasing a stag.’ He laughed. “He gave us a good run. I hope the others caught him. On the way back I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.”
“You must have. We’re almost a day’s journey from Jorvik.”
“No wonder I felt I’d walked for weeks. I’ve gone in completely the wrong direction.”
They continued to walk along the forest road that wound between tall trees, mainly oaks, with bramble and bracken growing beneath their canopies. The leaves had begun to turn a yellow-gold and many had dropped to form a carpet beneath their feet. They swished like the sound of waves invading the beaches as their feet and hooves passed through them.
Helgha sniffed the air. A familiar scent reached her nose. This time of year fungi grew in abundance and people used them to flavour their stews.
“Wait a moment.” She rushed toward a fallen tree trunk where she picked some edible fungi from its bark. “These are good to eat. Mother will be pleased to have them.” She continued walking, looking back to see if he followed.
After a little while, the ground began to rise and the forest thinned. Shortly, the trees stopped altogether. Ahead a cleared area at the top of a little hill came into view. Fields surrounded the village with partially harvested crops growing in them. A small coppice of hazel grew on one side of the hill. The villagers used the wood for making everything from baskets to houses, and the nuts were a valuable crop for the winter.
As they climbed to the top of the hill a palisade with an open gate appeared. This was Helgha’s home. A large longhouse stood in the centre of the village surrounded by smaller ones in the same style. All the houses had thatched roofs that came almost to the ground. A frame of wood made up the walls, with a lattice of sticks woven between them. The houses had been made weatherproof by having a sticky clay substance daubed on thickly.
“Tie your horse here, Erik, then come into the house.” Helgha pointed to a post next to the palisade.
The Dane did as she bade him and followed her into the large longhouse.
The pair entered through a door set in the middle of one of the longer sides of the building. Compared to outside, the house was dark, but their eyes soon became accustomed. A fire pit glowed in the centre of the single room, the smoke curling toward holes cut in the thatched roof. These holes allowed light to enter as well as letting the smoke from the fire to escape.
One end of the longhouse was closed off. Animals shifted around in that space, and occasionally there came the lowing of a cow. The scent of the animals permeated the large room, mingling with the smell of the smoke from the fire. At the other end of the longhouse, a wooden wall closed off another room.
A double row of wooden pillars ran the length of the house. Wide benches filled the gaps between them. A sheepskin and a blanket lay on each bench.
Three boys, all younger than Helgha, sat on one of the benches playing some sort of game while farther down two women gossiped as they span wool into yarn.
A pot hung over the fire and a woman with ash blonde hair, very like Helgha’s, stirred it. The woman straightened and rubbed her back smiling at Helgha. “You’re back. I was becoming anxious as it’s getting dark. Who’s this you’ve brought?”
“This is Erik. I met him as I started for home. He was lost.”
As they talked, the door opened to admit a tall man with light brown hair. He walked over to the fire and warmed his hands. “It’s getting cold in the evenings,” He looked around and noticed Erik. “Who’s this?”
Erik stepped forward and introduced himself.
“So, my daughter found another stray. This one’s a bit bigger than most.” He laughed and put his arm around Helgha to give her a hug. “She has a kind heart and often finds something that needs looking after.” He turned to the girl. “Speaking of your waifs, you’d better go and see to that orphaned fawn you brought home. He’ll need to go back to the forest soon.”
Helgha turned with a glance toward Erik that set all the butterflies off in her stomach again. She dragged her feet through the door, pausing once more to look back at Erik and her father.
Helgha’s father was big and had the look of a warrior. He had a full, bushy beard and twinkling blue eyes that he now turned toward Erik.
“I’ll show you the road to Jorvik tomorrow,” Helgha heard him say as she left to feed the orphaned animal. “It’s going dark now and it’ll be dangerous to leave. Stable your horse with the other animals. Over there.” He pointed to the room holding some cattle and pigs.
Helgha left and entered the stable end of the house. She pulled some hay over to a young deer as Erik led his horse through the door. She stood and patted the mare. “What’s her name?”
Erik gave the horse some water. “Stjarna.”
“A pretty name,. But she’s a pretty horse so should have a name to match.”
Helgha’s father pushed the door open. “Let me have a look at your animal. She looks to have hurt herself.” He knelt down and ran his hand down the leg. The mare shifted as he touched a sore spot.
“ I don’t think there’s anything to worry about. It’s a bit bruised that’s all. Rabbit hole, was it?”
“Yes. I didn’t see properly. I was too busy getting up and looking where my friends had gone. I noticed she was limping, so I couldn’t chase after them.”
Although it was not close to the fire, the warmth of the animals kept the stable end of the house warm. When he had made his horse comfortable, Erik returned to the main part of the house, Helgha following.
Once they were back indoors, Helgha’s father said, “If you’re staying here tonight, I should introduce you to the family.” He laughed—a loud and cheery sound. “I’m Biorn. My wife is Ædelflaed. Helgha you know. Boys, come here,” he called to the three sitting in the shadows. “This is Hartvigg. He’s seen eleven summers. Then there’s Laeff. He’s seen nine summers and little Sigmund five. Helgha has fourteen, or is it fifteen? I forget sometimes.”
Ædelflaed shook her head. “Really!” she scolded, with a smile at her husband. “She’ll be fifteen in three weeks time. You know that as well as I do.”
“Well she’s fourteen now,” her husband argued and turned to Erik. “It’s late. You must stay tonight and I’ll show you the road to Jorvik tomorrow. Your friends? Will they be anxious about you?”
Erik laughed. “I expect so, and when they return to Jorvik without me, my father will no doubt punish them before sending them out to find either me or my body.”
When Ædelflaed served the stew and they all sat eating, Helgha watched Erik and followed his gaze as he looked at the round shield and battle-axe hanging on the wall opposite him.
He turned to Biorn. “You were a warrior then? When did you come here?”
“With the Great Army. We conquered this area. The Anglo-Saxons are weak fighters. It wasn’t too hard.”
“And you decided to stay?”
“Not straight away. I went back to Denmark. Then I came again. There was land here for the taking. Good land. Rich and fertile. I met Ædelflaed soon after that and we married.”
“Many came to settle,” Erik said. “My own family did. My father fought with the Great Army, too, and was there when they took Jorvik. He still tells tales of that battle; how the Anglo-Saxons tried to fight back, and we killed their leader.”
Helgha gazed at Erik throughout this conversation. She tried to memorise his features. She knew when he left she would not see him again. She thought he was the finest man she had ever seen. He was handsome and tall with the muscular body of a warrior.
He turned to look at her and she blushed. Erik smiled and that made her face heat up even more. The idea that he might know she liked him embarrassed her. She was only a young girl, but she was of marriageable age. Many girls as old as she was were married already.
Her parents would find her a suitable husband, and she would endeavour to be a good wife, but she wanted to remember Erik. She could dream of him at night and imagine his kisses, but only if she could remember exactly how he looked.
She had been watching him, remembering how he held his head and threw it back when he laughed. She noted the way he smiled. He loved his horse, too. She had watched as he patted it and spoke in a low voice so as not to startle it. Yes, she had enough stored to remember this man who had come so unexpectedly into her life and would as quickly leave it.
That night as she lay on the bench in her furs, she wept in silence for what could not be.
I hope you enjoyed this little taster of my latest work and are as anxious looking to read the rest as I am to hear more from the publisher.
What did you think about this first chapter? Does it whet your appetite for more?
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