COMING SOON, my hot new Viking Harem novel, working title THE PRINCESS AND HER VIKING HAREM. To whet your appetite and set the scene, here's a sneak peek at Chapter One...
Pointy beaks, mummified claws, and tiny, porous bones scattered over the gnarled wooden table, rattling against each other before settling into the pattern chosen by the gods.
The squat candles to Ingrid’s right shivered as a gust of mid-winter wind blew beneath the door, bringing with it two leaves and a long black raven’s feather. Rain pelted down on the turf roof, sounding as though Thor himself was paying the valley of Ravndal a visit.
A visit in the dead of the night—a visit during the month when the sun chose not to rise from its slumber on the horizon.
Everything and everyone had hunkered down, hibernated, and was waiting for spring to thaw the land and once again provide.
Except for Ingrid. She’d taken to the highest hill to seek providence.
She tugged her hood tighter, the rabbit fur velvety on her cheeks. Being here was dangerous. A girl of her position shouldn’t be consulting the seer of Ravndal. Her destiny was planned. There was no need to question it—or at least that was what the king, her father, would say.
Not that she was afraid the seer would spread ghostly whispers about her visit. Being hundreds of years old, blind, and dwelling somewhere between men and the gods—life and death—the seer had more pressing matters to attend to.
Which is why Ingrid was grateful for this precious moment—the moment where he looked into her destiny and saw the truth. For much as she loved her father, and trusted him, she knew it was truly the gods who determined everyone’s fate.
“Ah, how I suffer...” The seer grimaced and used his palms to tap and assess where the bones and beaks now lay. “To see such things.”
“What do you see?” She fought a rise of trepidation.
He was silent, his bottom lip trembling, as though murmurs of the future were hovering there but wouldn’t spill out.
Ingrid resisted the temptation to demand more information for she knew she must not. The seer wasn’t known for his patience, and she did not wish for him to tell the gods—whose ear he had—that she was an impertinent, ill-tempered princess.
“A bear wishes to marry the wolf, a wolf that is wild and free.” His voice was hoarse, as though his throat had worn out from centuries of casting prophecies.
Ingrid bit on her bottom lip. To her right a string holding bird bones separated by twigs and clutches of heather hung from the roof. She stared at it to again prevent herself from pushing the seer.
“No man or animal can tame a wolf unless the wolf wishes to be tamed.” His voice grew more strangled with each word.
Although his eyes were milky, with no center, the seer stared at Ingrid. “I see a bubbling, broiling ocean.” He held up his hands. “Aegir, the god of the ocean is unhappy. Aegir wishes to rise up, then swallow, sink back down, sink back down into the ocean... be warned.” He sucked in a scratching breath. “Be warned, little one.”
“Be warned of the bear or the ocean?”
“Both!” He slammed his hands onto the table; the beaks and bones jumped, and wax over-spilled and leaked from a candle, the ensuing drip running tear-like down its length. “I cannot do this.” He stood, unfolding a spine that seemed to be held together with dust. His long black robe dragged on the floor as he stepped to the right, using a tall wooden chair for support. “I cannot do this.” Breathy, agonized words.
“Please, I beg you.” Ingrid also stood.
“Why, why do you beg?” He paused and tilted his chin. “You are a princess and a shield maiden, are you not?”
“Ja, that is true, but...” She hesitated. “A privileged birth means my path is not an easy one.”
“Many would say the opposite.” He was hunching forward again, reducing in height and retreating into his hood and the folds of his cloak so she could barely see his face. The small white skull pendant—a mouse most likely—hanging from his neck swayed with the ticking of her heart. “Many would say you have everything a woman could desire. A father who loves you. Comforts and treasures many have not. The gods have blessed you.”
“And I am grateful, really I am.” Ingrid twisted her hands together. If Thor or Odin were listening, she needed them to believe her. Her heart was thankful for all that she had, truly it was.
The seer turned and dipped his hand into a wooden box.
A squall rattled the door, shaking the iron latch.
Ingrid ignored the wind as the seer withdrew something from the box. He held it in his fist and turned to her, gnarled fingers clenched.
“This,” he said, “will help you find your way, child.”
“What is it?”
He didn’t reply, instead he turned his palm over and revealed a small dark rune stone. Red flecks shone from its green surface and it was the shape of a plump berry.
“Bloodstone,” he said as she took it. “It will help a lost soul see change on the horizon.” “Change on my horizon? Am I the lost soul?”
“I give you this rune as a protective talisman. It will give you the strength and courage you need to brave the storm.”
Ingrid trapped it in her hand and glanced at the wooden door, which was still rattling as the wind beat it. Was this the storm the seer was talking about? The one that shook her village right now. Or were there more on her horizon?
“I am tired,” he said, staggering a little to the right before clutching a table littered with dried herbs. “You must see the change and summon courage. But beware the bear and the wolf.”
“But I thought I had to beware of the bear and the ocean.”
“All of them, the bear will drive the wolf to the ocean.” He slumped into a chair beside a waning fire. The skull hanging from his neck settled on his chest. “Now go, the gods have exhausted me with their instructions and delivering them to you has drained the energy from my bones, sinew, and tendons.” He held out his upturned hand.
Ingrid poked out her tongue and dragged it over the cool, dry flesh of his palm. She had so many more questions for the seer but it was clear her time with him was over. Now she had to get back to her home, to her father, for there was a royal banquet being held in honor of a faraway visitor. If she were late for that, there’d be displeasure in the king’s eyes, and since losing her beloved mother, she hated to give him further reason for pain.
She had one last glance around the seer’s abode then slipped the bloodstone into a pouch attached to her belt. Once it was safely nestled beside her strike-a-light, she slipped through the door.
Instantly the wind whipped around her and she battled to refit the iron latch; it seemed the angry air wanted to take the door from her and hurl it toward the gods. When she’d finally managed the task, she clasped her cloak beneath her chin and ran down the dark hillside, using her free hand to steady herself on passing tree trunks that were dotted with lichen. It was wet and slippery underfoot but Ingrid wore leather trousers beneath her cloak and her boots were new and made by the finest tanner in the village so she traveled with swift ease.
The rain pelted her face and stung her cheeks. Twice the wind gripped her hood and yanked it from her head, sending her dark hair flying out behind her. The winter seemed to penetrate her soul, invading her lungs with its rusty brew of storm rain, mud, and fungi. But soon she was back in Ravndal making her way past longhouses, stables, and pens of chickens and goats.
Peeking inside the great hall it was apparent the banquet was about to start. Two of her father’s servants were stoking a crackling fire, above which three vats of bubbling fowl stew were suspended. Another servant was setting out tankards of mead on long tables that were littered with apples and nuts. Three more fires in cast-iron bowls hung from the ceiling on chains and kept the night chill at bay.
Several villagers were already there, picking at a plate of smoked fish and talking loudly, clearly excited about the evening and merriment ahead.
Unseen, Ingrid rushed home, keen to remove any evidence of her trip up the muddy hillside to visit the seer.
Quickly slipping into her chamber area at the west of the longhouse, she dragged the weaved curtain across to afford some privacy. Then, using an old rag, she wiped the worst of the mud from her boots. She removed her cloak, hung it up to dry, and slipped from her trousers.
“Ingrid. There you are.”
She turned. Her handmaiden, Helga, stood there, face pale, long neck peeking from a woolen tunic.
“My dress.” Ingrid pointed.
Her father had asked that she wear a dress, plait her hair, and displayed her mother’s jewels. She’d barely given herself time to preen yet alone be presentable for a village feast hosting guests. One particular guest her father seemed unusually keen to impress. Ingrid had no idea why even though he’d talked of Bjorn Har many times over the last few days.
She pulled on a white under-top, then her maiden assisted her with a red yarn dress with golden embroidery running from her shoulders to her waist. The neckline was low, the pale skin of her slight cleavage visible.
“I will get the scent, Princess.”
The handmaiden disappeared.
Pausing in her frantic movements, Ingrid slowly ran her fingertip over the soft orbs of her small breasts. She had yet to be with a man, but she’d seen and heard others in the village mating. Men planting their seed in the hope of sons. Privacy for intimate moments wasn’t something her people craved, especially when the mead was flowing and revelry was in full swing. She, however, wanted her first time with a man—her husband—to be special.
In fact her father had ordered that be the case.
What will it be like to be touched here... and down there?
Not for the first time her mind wandered into the future. She hoped her husband, her soulmate, her betrothed, would be handsome, and a fine warrior, a great provider, and brave and loyal. She’d yet to marry him, but already loved him. For she knew she’d only settle for a Viking of the highest quality, and she knew her father would only hand her over to such a person.
She sat and picked up a decorative comb made from an antler—a gift from one of the young men in the village, Raud Lothi—and set to her task of preparing for the feast again.
She smiled as she thought of Raud. He was one full moon older than her, and they’d grown up together, riding, hunting, chasing, and learning the ways of the forest and fjords. When Ingrid’s mother had passed with the fever four summers ago, Raud’s mother had comforted Ingrid, knowing when to speak, and when to stay silent as sorrow shrouded Ingrid’s life for the longest of winters. Raud had been the one to remind her how to smile. His playful nature, his quick genuine laughter, and his refusal to put her on a pedestal despite her father being king were a salve for her grief. She’d always be grateful to him for that.
Soon her hair was twisted into tight plaits and piled at her crown with several sprigs of dark rose heather sticking from it. She added dark brown streaks made from crushed walnuts and soot above and beneath her eyes, and dabbed dried berry paste onto her lips to give them a bruised shine.
“Ahh, there you are, daughter.”
“Father.” She turned, a smile forming on her face.
The king pushed the curtain aside and stepped into her space. He filled it with his wide shoulders adorned with a shimmering onyx wolf pelt. Two large iron buttons connected by a chain were pinned either side of his chest.
“Are you joining us?” he asked, ramming his hands onto his hips and his thickly coiled red beard shifting as he spoke.
“Of course.” She stood. “I just need to put on Mother’s amulet.”
“Here. Let me.” He reached onto the table and picked up the bronze chain; from it hung the runic compass symbol, vegvisir.
He held it up and looked between it and her. “This is a beautiful piece but nothing could ever outshine you, my dear daughter.”
“Thank you.” A little rush of heat bloomed on her cheeks. “Perhaps I don’t say it often enough, but I do love you.”
“As I love you.”
“And sometimes...” He paused. “I grieve for you.”
“But I am still here.” She was confused.
“Yes.” He sighed and stepped behind her, positioned the amulet at her throat. “But you are a grown woman now. I miss the little girl who used to sit on my lap listening to stories of the gods even when you could hardly keep your eyes open. I miss our trips to the forest, where every new thing put a shine of wonder in your eyes.”
“I still love to listen to your stories.” She rested her hand on his. “And perhaps when spring comes we could journey into the forest together again, on a hunting trip. It has been a long time since we did.”
He sighed and worked on the clasp of the necklace. “It is true what you say, you do have a journey ahead, my child, and there will be much change with it.”
‘Bloodstone. It will help a lost soul see change on the horizon.’
Ingrid said naught though her mind galloped as the seer’s words came back to her. Did her father know she’d visited the seer? Had the words of the gods traveled so quickly? Did he also know she had a bloodstone in her pouch?
“Now more than ever you need your mother with you,” he said, “to guide you into womanhood. She is not here, but this, her favorite piece is. I am glad you will be wearing it tonight.”
“It will not be easy but it will be for the best.” He paused. “It is time for you to put your family first.”
“Of course I will, Father.” She rested her hand on his. “You are my family. I will always put you first.”
“And I you, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Please remember that.”
“Of course.” She frowned. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“You’re all I have and my most treasured possession,” he added.
With the clasp fastened, Ingrid turned. This type of sentiment from her father—the firm but fair, and also feared King Baardsen of Ravndal—was most unusual. “Is there a problem?” She waited, hoping he’d take her into his confidence.
“No.” He shook his head though there was sadness in his blue eyes. “This day was always going to come.”
Ingrid frowned. “I thought you’d be happy. You have a guest from faraway lands visiting. A guest you revere.”
“That makes me both sad and happy.”
She tipped her head. His riddles weren’t making sense. A spindle of unease weaved its way through her thoughts, tugging into a knot that tightened into a fist.
“Come.” He pressed his hand onto the small of her back. “Let’s not keep everyone waiting to see your astounding beauty.”
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