I’m giving you a quick look at the next book in the saga that traces the history of a family from Roman Britain through the ages. The first book, already published, is called Vengeance of a Slave.
This second book takes place during the time of the Danish occupation of the East of England. It tells the tale of a young girl, a descendant of Adelbehrt from the first book. She is the daughter of an Anglo Saxon woman, descended from Adelbehrt, and her Danish husband. It’s called Revenge of a Viking
I hope you enjoy it. I’m currently on the first rewrite, but I hope to have it published by September, all being well.
As yet I have no artwork to go with it. Apologies about that.
Helgha bent down to pick some herbs she had been looking for. The sound of hooves came from around the corner of the track. She whirled around, her ash blonde hair whipping across her face. The forest was not a safe place, especially as it was getting dusk now. All kind of dangers abounded. A pack of wolves roamed not far away, and the threat of bandits was a very real danger. She should have been home already, but a clump of the herbs had caught her eye. They were just the ones she sought and she stayed to pick enough for her mother to use to prepare the medicines.
A man appeared from round a bend in the road, leading his horse. She backed towards the bushes at the edge of the track, hoping to make herself invisible to the man, but his eyes alighted on her as she whirled, her sudden movement giving her away.
‘Hey,’ he called, ‘Can you help me? I’m lost.’
Helgha backed further into the bushes, looking for somewhere to run. Perhaps this track, made by some animal would lead her to a wider one where she could make her escape. The man called again.
‘Stop, please. I won’t hurt you. I promise. I just want to find a way out of this infernal forest and back on the road to Jorvik.’
Helgha stopped. She could not go any further, anyway. A large bramble bush prickled her back, its thorns even penetrating the woollen cloak she wore.
The man had now reached where she had pressed into the bushes.
‘I understand why you’re afraid,’ he said, ‘but I’m not one to harm a young girl. Certainly not one as pretty as you.’ He smiled, making his grey eyes light up.
‘My name’s Erik,’ he continued. ‘I’m assuming there’s a farm or a village ahead and that’s where you’ve come from. I don’t expect you’re wandering the forest at dusk if you’re far from home.’
Helgha stepped out from the bramble bush, pulling her cloak free from the thorns that grasped the wool, trying to pull her back.
‘No, sir,’ she murmured. ‘My home is just a few minutes away.’
‘Then will you take me there?’
Helgha looked at the man. He was tall and had light brown hair, a beard and a long moustache as did most of the Danish men. His clothes looked of a good quality and his cloak an expensive brooch pinned his cloak.
He’s not a beggar, or even a poor man, she thought Having made the decision that she ought to help him, she nodded in answer to his question and began walking along the road, beckoning Erik to follow her.
He pulled his horse to get it walking again, and it shook its head before beginning to reluctantly walk forward. Helgha had been so busy trying to make herself invisible when Erik appeared she had not noticed the animal had an injured foot.
The girl walked over and patted the animal talking gently to it before reaching down to feel its foot.
‘She tripped over something and threw me,’ Erik said. ‘I hope she’s not hurt her leg badly. She’s a good horse and has served me well.’
Helgha smiled back at her companion.
‘Father will have a look when we get home.’ she replied. ‘Have you walked far?’
‘It seems like hundreds of miles,’ Erik replied, ‘but it’s probably only a few.’
‘How did you come to be lost?’
‘A group of us went out hunting, then my horse tripped and threw me. The others went on and I started back towards Jorvik, but must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.’
‘You must have done. We’re nearly a day’s journey from Jorvik.’
They continued to walk along the forest road that wound between tall trees, mainly oaks, with bramble and bracken growing beneath the canopies. The leaves had begun to turn a yellow-gold and many had dropped to form a carpet beneath their feet. The rustling of these dry leaves had alerted Helgha to Erik’s approach. They swished like the sound of waves on the beaches as the feet and hooves passed through them.
The smell of fungi made Helgha stop.
‘Wait a moment,’ she said, and rushed off towards a fallen tree trunk where she picked some fungi from its bark.
‘These are good to eat,’ she told Erik. ‘Mother will be pleased to have them.’
Then she continued walking without looking back to see if he followed her.
After a little while, the ground began to rise and soon the trees stopped altogether. Ahead was a cleared area around the top of the little hill. Fields surrounded the village with partially harvested crops growing in them.
As they reached the top of the hill a palisade with an open gate appeared This, then, was Helgha’s home.
A large longhouse stood in the centre of the village surrounded by smaller ones in the same style as the longhouse. All the houses had thatched roofs and were built of wattle and daub.
‘Tie your horse here, Erik,’ Helgha told him, ‘then come into the house. The Dane did as she bade him and followed her into the longhouse.
The pair entered through a door set in the middle of one of the longer sides of the building. Erik blinked in the darkness that met them. It seemed darker due to coming in from the light outside. His eyes quickly became accustomed and he looked round.
Inside, the longhouse was much as Erik expected. The fire pit lay in the centre of the single room. Smoke curled up towards holes cut in the thatched roof, These holes allowed light to enter as well as the smoke from the fire to escape. Three boys, all younger than Helgha, sat on a bench running along one side of the house. They were playing some sort of game. A similar bench ran along the other side where three women sat spinning, and weaving at an upright loom.
One end of the longhouse was closed off. Animals shifted around, and occasionally there came the lowing of a cow. At the other end another room had been closed off. This gave some privacy to the lord of the village and his wife.
A pot stood over the fire and a woman with ash blonde hair very similar to Helgha’s stood stirring it. Helgha’s mother, Erik deduced.
She straightened up and rubbed her back, then smiled at Helgha and said, ‘You’re back then. Who’s this you’ve brought home? And did you get the herbs?’
‘Here’s everything you wanted. I was lucky in finding them all today. I also found these mushrooms.’ Helgha handed over her basket and her mother put it to one side.
Helgha continued speaking as her mother dealt with the herbs and mushrooms.
‘This is Erik. I met him just as I started for home. He got lost. He was with a hunting party out from Jorvik and his horse threw him so he became separated from the rest. He was trying to find the road back to Jorvik when he saw me.’
Just then, 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 said. Then he noticed Erik. ‘Who’s this?’
Erik stepped forward and introduced himself. He told the man how he became lost in the forest and had been rescued by Helgha.
‘So, my daughter found another stray. This one’s a bit bigger than most.’ He laughed and put his arm round Helgha to give her a hug. ‘She has a kind heart and is always finding something that needs looking after.’ He turned to the girl. ‘You’d better go and see to that little fawn you brought home, although he’s not so little now. He’ll need to go back to the forest soon.’
Erik looked at the man. He was big and had the look of a warrior about him. He had a full and bushy beard and twinkling blue eyes that he now turned towards Erik.
‘Well, you can’t leave for Jorvik now. It’s going dark. It’ll take you nearly a day to get there. Stable your horse with the other animals. Over there.’ He pointed to the room that held some cattle and pigs.
Erik thanked the other man and brought his horse into the stable end of the house, through another door. Helgha’s father noticed the animal’s limp and followed.
‘Let me have a look at your animal. She seems to have hurt her leg.’
He knelt down and ran his hand down the leg. The mare shifted uncomfortably as the man touched a sore spot.
‘Well, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about, he said. ‘It’s a bit bruised that’s all. Rabbit hole. was it?’
‘Yes, I think so. I didn’t really see properly. I was too busy getting up and looking where my companions had gone. Then I noticed she was limping, so I couldn’t chase after my friends.’
Although it was not very near the fire, the stable end of the house was warm due to the presence of the animals. When he had made his horse comfortable, Erik returned to the main part of the house.
Helgha’s father said, ‘Well, I know your name. You don’t know mine.’ He laughed. A loud and cheery sound. ‘I’m called Biorn. My wife is Aedelflaed. 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. Little Sighmund five. Helgha has fourteen, or is it fifteen. I forget sometimes.’
Aedelflaed shook her head. ‘I don’t know,’ 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.’ argued her husband, and turned to Erik. ‘It’s late. You must stay here tonight and tomorrow. Give your horse chance to recover. Then I’ll show you the road to Jorvik. Your companions. 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 Aedelflaed served the stew, they all sat round eating. Erik noticed a shield hanging on the wall opposite him.
‘You were a warrior then?’ he asked Biorn.’ When did you come here?’
‘I came with the Great Army. We conquered this area. The Anglo-Saxons were weak fighters. It wasn’t too hard.’
‘And you decided to stay?’
‘Not straight away. I went back. Then I came again. I met Aedelflaed and stayed. The land is good here. Rich and fertile.’
‘Many came to settle here. My own family did. My father also fought with the Great Army and was there when they took Jorvik. He still tells tales of that battle, and how the Anglo-Saxons tried to fight back, and we killed their leader.’
Helgha sat looking at Erik throughout this conversation. She was trying to memorise his features. She knew when he left in a couple of days she would not see him again. She thought he was the finest man she had ever seen. He was handsome and tall with the body of a warrior.
He turned to look at her and she blushed. Erik smiled and that made her face heat up even more. He knew she liked him. That idea embarrassed her but why it did she was unsure. She was only a young girl, but she was of marriageable age. There were many girls her age who were married.
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. That was why she had been watching him carefully, noting how he held his head and threw it back when he laughed. She noted the way he smiled at the little boys and how his voice changed when he spoke to them. He loved his horse, too. she noted how 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 just as quickly was going to leave it.
That night as she lay in her bed, she wept silently for what could not be.
The next day, Erik went to examine his horse’s leg. It seemed less painful when he touched it, but it still made the animal toss his head and snort. He had hoped to be able to leave that day, but he did not want to harm his horse, and so he agreed with Biorn to stay one more night.
Helgha watched as Erik tended the animal. She stroked its soft nose and whispered to it as it shifted uncomfortably under Erik’s ministrations. She loved the horse. Its warm smell and brown eyes looking so trustingly at her. Erik looked up and smiled.
‘He likes you,’ he told her.
‘I like him, too,’ she replied. ‘I like all animals, but horses are special.’
Biorn came to speak to Erik. He looked at the horse’s leg and said he did not think Erik should ride him for a few days.
‘I need to get back to Jorvik, though,’ Erik said, getting up from where he had been kneeling while he looked at his horse’s leg.
Biorn thought for a moment.
‘Well,’ he said, scratching his beard, ‘I could lend you one of mine for a few days until yours is better. I’ll tend him well.’
Helgha could not help the smile that broke out on her face at this. Erik would need to return to get his horse. She would see him again.
Erik rode out later that morning on his borrowed horse and Helgha returned to her tasks dreaming of his return.
She spent time with Erik’s horse. She groomed him and took him apples. He welcomed her with a gentle whicker whenever she came near him. She leaned against his side and spoke gently.
‘You are so lucky,’ she told the horse. ‘He’ll come back for you. You’ll be living with him, seeing him every day. When he comes back it’ll be the very last time I’ll ever see him.’
The horse seemed to look at her with sympathy in his brown eyes. Or so Helgha thought as she returned reluctantly to her tasks.
When Erik returned for his horse, Helgha ran to take her father’s animal and lead it back to the barn. Erik walked with her and smiled down at her.
‘How is my horse?’ he asked.
‘He seems to be better,’ she replied, not daring to look at him in case she blushed. She could not let him see her blushes because she would never see him again after today. He had brought her father’s horse back and had only come to collect his own and then he would ride away forever.