Tag Archives: vikings

The Great Heathen Army

It is 865, and Britain is invaded by a largely Danish army. This is different from the hit and run raids the Vikings previously made. A large army intent on conquering has come to the country.

This is a very loose interpretation of what happened, as told by one of the warriors who came over.

The Great Heathen Army.

The flickering light from the flames in the firepit made the shadows dance. Outside darkness was falling as we waited, drinking and singing in the longhouse, to hear about the raid Ragnar Lodbrok had made on the country of Northumbria.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Halfdan Ragnarsson sat in his father’s chair at one end of the firepit. He held his horn of ale aloft as he toasted the scald, who had sung of the prowess of Ragnar Lodbrok.

As we sat drinking and singing, the door burst open and a young man entered. He flung himself before Halfdan, who, as the eldest, was in charge while his father was away. I could see the man trembling even from where I sat at the far side of the fire. He spoke in a low voice so I could not hear his words, Halfdan roared, leapt to his feet and threw his horn into the fire. The ale sizzled as it hit the flames and clouds of smoke arose, making those around cough.

He passed his hand over his eyes before speaking. “My friends. This man has brought us dire news. My father, and your king, Ragnar Lodbrok is dead. Killed by treachery.”

A gasp ran around the assembled people and several of the women began to wail.

Halfdan held up a hand for silence. “When he met with Ælla, king of Northumbria, he was defeated.”

Several people shook their heads in disbelief. I found myself joining them. How could anyone have defeated the Danes and captured its leader?

“That’s not the worst.” Halfdan’s eyes were blazing now. “Not only did he capture my father, but he threw him into a pit of venomous snakes. He killed a captive king.”

A great roar went up. I heard myself begin to shout. “Vengeance. We must avenge our king.”

Everyone took up the chant and soon the whole longhouse was on its feet chanting “Vengeance! Vengeance! Vengeance.”

Halfdan smiled at our response. “I will contact my brothers. We will raise a great army and set sail to teach this king Ælla, a lesson he won’t forget.”

So began the preparations for the invasion. Halfdan’s brother, Ubba brought some of his Frisians and men from Scandinavia, while Ivar, known as The Boneless brought more men from Scandinavia.

We gathered ships, filled them with men and set sail. We were lucky with the wind and the seas. The wind blew us westward and the seas remained calm.

We landed in East Anglia. What a dismal place. All swamp and wetness. The wind, which had propelled us so easily across the sea, now became a thing to curse. It cut through our clothes and skin right down to our very bones. But we were here to avenge our king, and so, as Danes, we bore it stoically.

We camped on a higher piece of land that was relatively dry, having pulled our ships up the beach. On the second day, riders approached our camp cautiously. They pulled their horses to a halt and one man rode forward a few paces.

“Hail,” he called. “We do not wish for war. May we come and discuss peace terms?”

Halfdan laughed at this. “Weak Anglo Saxons. Can’t they fight like real men? ”

Ivar shrugged. “It’ll do no harm to talk to them. After all, perhaps we can persuade them to help us.”

So the men rode into our camp and tethered their horses. Halfdan, Ubba and Ivar came out of their tent and stood before the Anglo Saxons. They all stood, arms crossed and feet wide apart, with armour, helmets, and battle axes slung across their backs.

Halfdan glowered. “What do you want?”

The man who had spoken previously stepped forward once again. “We do not wish for a battle. We are willing to trade for peace.”

Ubba laughed. “Suppose we ask for men to bolster our army?”

The Anglo Saxon paled. “Th-that is unacceptable. We want to live in peace and not at war. This is a difficult land for fighting. We know it well, and you are strangers. It is easy for people who do not know the land to get lost and die in our bogs.”

“Who are you? Do you have authority to negotiate?” Halfdan said.

The man drew himself up to his full height. “My name is Edmund. I rule this land.”

The brothers looked at one another “Come into the tent and we will negotiate.”

I did not hear the negotiations. I’m not important enough to be allowed in the tents of our leaders, but the outcome was that this King Edmund would supply us with horses and allow us to over-winter in his kingdom.

We moved farther inland to a small village. The river was shallow enough for a ford here, which was why the village had grown up there. Theodford, they called it. People’s ford. We stayed there for all the winter. Cold, it was, and that east wind kept on blowing. But there was little snow. But we’re Danes and can manage such privations.

We celebrated Yule in true Danish fashion. There was much feasting and drinking, the goods for which we plundered the surrounding countryside.

Everyone looked forward to the fights to come, and we gave much discussion to how we would punish Ælla when we captured him.
Our king, Ragnar, must have died a horrible death in the snake pit, so the death of Eoforwic. must be equally horrible, but I will come to that later.

The Anglo Saxons were true to their word and gave us horses and we eventually rode north, toward Northumbria and our real goal. The Anglo Saxons had a large city they called Eoforwic. I believe it had been founded by the mythical Romans a long time before, but when those people disappeared, the Anglo Saxons took it over and changed its name.
Halfdan told us he would attack on November the first.

Why that date? Well, he had learned it was an important date to the Christians. One where the honoured their saints. They would all be in Church and so the conquest would be easy.

He was right. Eoforwic fell to us easily. As it was now getting towards winter again, we decided to stay there for the cold months and then move against Ælla in the spring.

Halfdan also decided that having captured the capital of this part of Britain, he would settle here and make this land his own. He put a puppet king onto the throne, to give the people the illusion they still ruled themselves, but in fact, Halfdan was the true ruler. But as many of us could not readily pronounce Eoforwic, we started calling it Jorvik.

To be continued

Look out for the next instalment of the story of The Great Heathen Army.

Coming out soon is the next book in my Family Through the Ages books. It is set in Britain, around Jorvik (York), beginning a few years after the Great Heathen Army’s invasion and follows a young Danish girl, a descendant of Adelbehrt from Vengeance of a Slave.

Here is a preview of the cover for this book.

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my latest book has gone to the publisher

This is not the final cover, but one I knocked up as a temporary measure.

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.

CHAPTER 1

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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A Poem from my Work in Progress.

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This story is set in Britain, in what is now Yorkshire at the time of the Danes and tells of the trials and tribulations of Helgha. This is a saga told by a scald (the Danish equivalent of a bard.) It tells of how Erik won Helgha from her father.

“Erik loved the beauteous maiden, Helgha,
The most beautiful maid
Amongst all the Danes.
Her flaxen hair flowed like moonlight on the seas
And her blue eyes glowed like the sky in summer.
But they could not marry.
For Erik was promised to another.
He visited his love often
Until her father challenged him
To a battle.
Sword rang on shield.
Axe split the air with sound like thunder.
Young and strong, was Erik,
Older and wily was Biorn.
Who would win?
Youth and strength or
Guile and Experience?
Biorn struck first with his axe,
But Erik raised his shield.
Biorn’s axe glanced off.
Erik fought bravely
Until Biorn’s shield broke.
Biorn hit Erik with the edge and drew first blood.
Brave Erik did not flinch.
Blood streamed from the gash in his cheek
But he fought on, ignoring pain and blood.
The battle continued for hours.
Erik parried the axe with his shield.
His sword longing for blood.
His eyes burning with the pleasure of the fight.
Then Erik saw Biorn tiring
The man’s steps became slow,
His axe dragged
As if reluctant to hit this brave young warrior.
Erik backed into a barn wall and feigned a slip.
When Biorn came with raised axe
To finish the battle and send Erik to Valhalla,
The young warrior rolled beneath the axe
And as Biorn raised his weapon,
Erik sent his sword upwards.
Into the heart of his foe it went.
Blood flowed over both.
As Biorn crashed down, Erik rolled away.
Helgha screamed.
Her lover and her father both drenched in blood.
Who lived and who died?
Then Erik rose and seized the maiden.
He fled to Stjarna, his horse,
And leaped to her back with Helgha.
They galloped all night
Until at dawn they arrived in Jorvik.
Now Erik has a beautiful bed-slave.
And a scar on his cheek
To remind all of his bravery.”

The book is undergoing the editing process at the moment. I’ll keep you all informed as to how it’s getting on. Nearly through the first rewrite.

A Sneak Peek at my latest Work in Progress.

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.

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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.’

I would be interestd in your opinion of this extract. Please post a comment in the comments box.

A Sneak Peek at Jealousy of a Viking

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I’ve not yet got any images for the cover of this book, or I’d post them here. However, there are a few of Viking people and Viking life. (Why has ‘of’ not gone into italics?)

I’m currently in the editing and rewrite process. I did hope it would be able to be released in time for Christmas, but that is now impossible. Anyway, here’s a bit of what I’ve already written. Please bear in mind that this is still only a draft.

This is Chapter 2. In Chapter 1, Helgha, a young Danish girl living near the Danish city of Jorvik, (York) met a young man called Erik, lost in the forest. She helped him to her home and he left his injured horse to be tended by her father, Biorn. After he collected his nirse, she thought she would never see him again, although she had developed an infatuation for the young man.

Each night for the next two weeks, Helgha recalled Erik’s features before falling asleep. She could see them as clearly now as she had when she first saw them. She thought about how he moved his head and how he walked. His laugh sounded in her ears as sleep found her. She dreamed of him walking into her home and asking her father’s permission to court her.

Aedelflaed spoke to Helgha about the herbs she would need to understand before she became a wife. ‘It will be your job to tend to the sickness and injuries of your people. You will need to know about what herbs you use for each job.’

‘Mother! I’ve been watching and learning all my life. I know almost as much as you do about tending the sick and injured.’

‘I know, Helgha, but your father is going to talk to Gunnar Janson about you marrying his son. You might think you know everything, but there are still many things you need to understand.’

Aedelflaed stretched, put down her spinning and stood. ‘Come with me, girl,’ she said, walking towards the streroom where she kept her dried and fresh herbs.

Helgha followed.

Aedelflaed reached, lifted a pot from the shelf, and turned to the girl. ‘Sometimes, Helgha, no matter how much you care for each other, a man will hanker after other women. You need to understand how to prevent him from straying. Now, I will teach you how to stop that. It involves herbs added to his drink, but also words said over it. Magic words.’

Helgha’s eyes opened wide. ‘Magic? You know magic? Isn’t that dangerous?’

‘Not if you know what you’re doing, and do it right.’

‘But someone could accuse you of witchcraft.’

Aedelflaed smiled at her daughter. ‘That’s why I’ve told no one except you, and you must never tell anyone, either, or we’ll both be in a lot of trouble.’

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, she thought. 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 with a feeling of tightness in 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 perhaps 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 replied, feeling the 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.
Aedelflaed frowned. Helgha looked at her mother and knew what thoughts passed through her mind. Similar to 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 where 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.’

Tears started to run down Helgha’s cheeks as she turned to her mother. ‘Please stop them. I can’t bear that one will die.’

Her mother turned away from her daughter. ‘You are a Dane, Helgha. Behave like one. People die in battle, you know that. Your uncles died with honour fighting for the Jarl to gain all this land. They now feast in Valhalla for ever. Whoever dies in this fight will join them.’

Helgha reached out to her mother. ‘You aren’t a Dane. How can you talk like that? You’re an Anglo-Saxon.’

‘I became a Dane when I married your father. I became a Dane when I decided to follow the Danish religion. I became a Dane when I learned how to act like one. Now, daughter, you must act like one too. Dry your eyes and stand and watch.’

Helgha forced her eyes to stay open as the two men circled each other, each looking for an opening. Erik was young but Biorn was a seasoned warrior who had fought hard to gain this land. Helgha knew he had more experience than the younger man and was full of tricks and wiles. She worried that her father’s experience would overcome Erik’s strength. Then her anxiety turned to anguish as she thought Erik’s youth and more recent battle experience would prevail and he would kill her father in this battle.
As the workers returned from the fields, they stood around to watch the contest as the pair continued to circle each other.

Helgha felt the sun’s rays on her back as it struck through a hole in the cloud. It felt as if one of the weapons struck her. She felt sick, but could not give in to the feeling. She felt her mother watching her, expecting her to behave like a true Dane. At that moment. Helgh felt anything but a true Dane. She felt like one of the despised Anglo Saxons, full of fear and cowardice. She turned to watch the fight.

Erik lunged but Biorn avoided his thrust. He struck at Erik who parried with his shield. Biorn made a flurry of attacks, hacking at Erik’s shield and forcing him backwards.
Backed against a store building, the younger man ducked and rolled away. He came up behind Biorn. The older man whirled round just in time to catch Erik’s sword on the edge of his shield. Helgha drew in a breath as he thrust the shield’s boss into Erik’s face. With no helmet to protect his head Erik was forced to duck. The edge of the shield cut a deep gash in his cheek.

Helgha screamed.

To the watching girl, it seemed hours passed. In effect, it was only a few minutes. She closed her eyes so as not to see, then opened them because she could not see. The two men were evenly matched. Erik was quicker, but what Biorn lacked in speed he more than made up for in experience and craft.

Eventually the fighting began to tell on Biorn. He slowed. Erik took advantage of this, and forced Biorn backwards. He rained .fast blows of his sword on Biorn’s shield. Biorn had to fend them off with no chance to retaliate.

Helgha once again screamed and put her hands over her face as she saw the blood-lust in Erik’s eyes as he pressed his attack. That look frightened her.

Biorn slipped. He did not go to ground, but his shield split under the assault from Erik. He regained his balance and held up his axe as defence. Erik slipped. Biorn lifted his battle axe to deal the final blow as Erik twisted his body and thrust upwards, skewered Biorn through the belly.

Blood gushed over the young man as he rolled from under his assailant. He stood and leaned on his sword, gasping for breath as Biorn’s four men rushed towards him, pitchforks in hand. Erik sheathed his sword and ran towards Helgha. He grabbed her by the hand and dragged her to where his horse stood. Leaping into the saddle, he pulled a crying Helgha behind him and turned his horse’s head towards the gates, kicking the animal into a gallop just as the first of the workers reached him.

In a clearing in the forest, four miles from Helgha’s home, Erik pulled his horse to a stop and dismounted. He lifted Helgha down. She had stopped crying, but as she looked at Erik, she wondered what had happened. Her father was dead. She knew that. Erik had killed him. She knew that too. Should she be here with the man who had killed her father? Should she not exact revenge on him?

Erik spoke gently to her. ‘This was all because I can’t marry you. Your father was right. I should not have come calling on you as if I wanted to court you. But you are so lovely, and have such a kind heart.’

Helgha looked up into Erik’s grey eyes. She felt confused. What had happened? Her father was dead, killed by the man in front of her. This same man had abducted her. What should she do?

Erik continued speaking as he wiped away the tear that appeared at the corner of her eye. ‘I would like to marry you, Helgha, but I can’t. My father is a Jarl, and I will be Jarl after him, assuming I can keep his followers. You are a ceorl. You understand?’

Helgha nodded. She understood his words, but did not understand why he had brought her with him.

He went on to explain. ‘I love you, Helgha, and I want to be with you. I can’t marry you, but we can be together. You can be my mistress. I’ll make sure you have everything a wife would have.’

She backed away from him. ‘My family? My mother? My brothers? What of them?’ This man had killed her father and carried her away. There would be blood feud between them now. She should exact revenge on him for breaking up her family. But did she want to?

‘Your brothers are honour bound to kill me, but they are young yet. It will be a long time before they are old enough. Then, I don’t suppose they’ll try. They’ll be up against a Jarl and all his followers.’

Helgha nodded her understanding. Despite everything, Erik still wanted her. He wanted her enough to fight her father for her. He wanted her enough to risk his life for her. But the certainty dawned on her that when her brothers were old enough they would come looking for Erik. Her feelings did not seem to matter.

Did she want to be with her father’s killer? She did not know. That Erik had no choice in the matter she knew. Her father had instigated the fight. It was kill or be killed. Still, her father was her father, and she had loved him.

Now she had to be with this man, like it or not. A part of her said she did like it. She had always been attracted to Erik and the butterflies gathered in her stomach when he came. They fluttered whenever he spoke to her, or if his hand brushed hers. They did so now, as she looked up into his eyes.

She came to a decision and she smiled. ‘I understand. Now let me clean the blood from your face. I can’t do much about the blood on your clothes though.’

She walked to a small stream flowing alongside the road and, tearing a piece of cloth from her dress, dipped it into the water and wiped Erik’s cheek. He winced.

‘It’ll leave a scar. It’s deep.’

‘Better a scar than being dead.’

‘In order to help it heal, I need yarrow. It’ll also help to prevent infection of the wound, too.’

‘There’s bound to be some at my father’s place. We should have a drink and carry on. It’ll be dark before we get there and I don’t want to be out any longer in the dark than needs be.’

Before lifting her back onto his horse, Erik lifted Helgha’s chin with his finger,  bent his head and kissed her.

Helgha felt as if she were hurtling down a steep hill on an out-of-control sledge, her stomach turning over in excitement. Her heart beat harder and faster as she responded to his kiss.

All too soon the kiss ended. Helgha wanted more but she knew she would have to wait. More would come once they arrived at Erik’s home so she sat quietly on his horse as he kicked her to a canter.

A sneak peek at my new novel.

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.