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.
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.
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.