Today, I’m really excited to be sharing an excerpt from Lucy Morris’s new release, The Viking Chief’s Marriage Alliance, published by Mills and Boon.
North Sea, Coast of Northumbria, 880AD
Thorstein Bergson’s longship crashed through the turbulent waves at a relentless pace. Even so, he feared it would be too late for the survivors of the shipwreck that lay broken upon the rocks. The wind and rain stung his face as mountainous waves threw his boat up and down with merciless fury. But he knew these waters, every dip and every shallow—unlike the unfortunate travellers who’d strayed too close to the broken teeth of land.
Above the wreck, high on an arching cliff, a lonely oak tree burned. Struck by lightning, it blazed from the inside out, its blackened branches reaching up into the storm as if screaming for mercy. Its centre a glowing beacon of death and destruction in the early light of dawn.
A message from the gods that even he could not ignore.
If there were any survivors they should leave an offering at the base of that tree. Without it, Thorstein would never have seen their longship and come to their aid. He was still unsure why he was risking his men’s lives, and possibly his own, to help strangers.
At least the storm that had raged throughout the night was beginning to die. Thor no longer beat his hammer in the righteous sky, and the lashing rain was beginning to ease. It wouldn’t be long before they reached the horseshoe of cliffs that surrounded his settlement’s harbour.
His friend Magnus came to join him at the prow of the ship. Magnus leaned his shoulder against the intricately carved serpent’s head and clicked his tongue against his teeth as he followed Thorstein’s gaze. ‘We shouldn’t sail too close to the rocks, or we might meet a similar fate.’
Thorstein grunted in agreement. The storm was running out of power, but the cliffs were treacherous at the best of times. Currently the tide was coming in, and it was coming in fast.
Magnus eyed his friend thoughtfully. ‘They’ll probably all be dead before we reach them.’
Thorstein frowned and folded his arms against his barrel chest. The longship slowed as his men turned the vessel to come abreast of the wreck. Both men braced their legs and barely moved as the ship swung to the side. They had been in worse waters than this.
Thorstein’s arm ring shone in the amber light of dawn and he stared at the burning oak above the wreck, his facial scar aching in the bitter whip of the wind.
‘I’ll get as close as I can,’ Magnus said, and he nodded.
He frowned at the survivors where they clung to the side of their upturned hull. Their pale, exhausted faces were like skulls in the weak light of dawn.
A cobalt cloak drew his eye. The shade was deep and rare, reserved for only the wealthiest of nobles.
Was this why Thor had brought him here? Was he to save a noble and win a reward?
Thorstein crossed his arms and braced his legs wide as his boat rocked from side to side. He had no need for wealth. His hoard was safely buried beneath his Hall. He had enough for both his future and the afterlife. No, there must be some other reason he’d been called to their rescue.
‘Can you swim?’ he bellowed, his voice carrying over to the survivors of the wreck. ‘We will run aground if we get much closer.’
Their ships were far too close as it was, and he would rather not risk his own men any more than he needed to.
In answer, several of the shipwrecked crew jumped into the rolling sea and began to paddle wearily towards them. He watched with tense shoulders as even the wounded jumped into the water. He relaxed a little when he saw they were being helped along by their more able shipmates.
He threw a rope over the side, and his men did the same.
Thorstein’s eyes were pulled back to the cobalt cloak. It was worn by a woman. Some of her ash blonde hair fell limply forward as she raised her face to the sun. As she stood, he saw she had the bearing of a queen. Her head was high and her spine straight. She was tall, he noted. Even for a Norse woman she was well above average in height, her head level with that of a red-haired man who she appeared to be arguing with.
Thorstein felt almost sorry for him as she glared imperiously down her sharp nose and spat words like flaming arrows. He watched as the man snarled back at this woman with the face and stature of a goddess. No doubt the spoilt, pampered wife of this unfortunate traveller. He pitied the man—a wife like that was a curse, no matter how beautiful she was.
She didn’t jump into the water like the others. Her jaw was clenched in a stubborn line as she stared the man down and shook her head.
To Thorstein’s surprise, the man let out a bellow of frustration and jumped into the water alone.
The woman looked out towards Thorstein then. Her blue-grey eyes were cool and sharp as she assessed him with a steady gaze. She did not flinch, as some women did when they saw his crucifix scar, and he respected her more for it. Some thought it shameful that he bore the Christian mark of their enemies’ religion, although he felt no shame personally.
She turned away, and he lost sight of her. His chest felt suddenly tight.
Where was she going?
Want to know more about Lucy and her books? Check her out here:
And if you missed her guest post all about worldbuilding, you can check that out here too: https://www.keginger.com/guest-post-by-lucy-morris/