MacAuliffe Vikings Trilogy 3 - Lord of the wolves

Lord of the Wolves
Heather Graham

Prologue

The Blood of the Wolf

A.D. 865

The Coast of Eire

Land of the Scotia

The tall boy was rigid, his young soul in a tempest of indignation. Golden blond, already strong beyond his years, he withstood the wind well as it whipped around him, almost as if he drew more strength from the force of it.

His mother had rued his behavior and told him he was acting like a
Viking.

Well, he was a Viking!

“Look to the sea, my son!” his father told him, and the king"s hands set upon his son"s shoulders. “Look out to the whitecaps, breaking on the water. Imagine them our ships! So many of them, lean, sharp ships, ships that slash the water and can best any storm out there! See the great dragon prows, my son, the bared teeth, the mouths drawn back in snarling grimaces! See the carving of them, the excellent way they are crafted! We are the masters of the seas, and that cannot be denied.”

He smiled up into his father"s eyes. “Vikings, Father. We
are
Vikings. And we still sail such ships from here!”

“They are the best ships, as most of the world has seen. It is a world in which we are often under attack and a world in which we often make alliances, and so we need strong ships,” the king commented thoughtfully. “And yes, we are Vikings, or Norsemen, in one way, Irish in another. Sometimes, son, it is not so wise to remind your mother of that fact.”

The boy grinned. His mother was every inch the Irish princess. She had taught them all the great Irish laws of hospitality, and the Brehon laws that made the people so civilized. She had seen that they were taught art and history, languages, and religion. But he did not know if his mother really so much minded his father"s being a Viking. Whatever else his father might be, he was a great man who had perhaps invaded once, but then had stayed to fight for the land—and the people.

His mother had been the one to send him to his father now.

He had gotten in trouble, for Leith had teased him, taking his newly hewn sword, the very handsome one that his grandfather had fashioned for him.

Leith always had everything, or so it seemed. But then Leith was the eldest son. Leith was their father"s heir. He would rule here, in this place that was so rich and green, so beautiful, that they all loved so much. He knew that, he understood it. He even loved his brother who had been trained to be a king, who was older, wiser, dignified, and, like his mother, very thoughtful and very fair.

But today he had tried to take the sword!

The worst of it had been that it had all begun in the chapel during mass. His mother had taken his hand and led him from the church, and her emerald eyes had looked upon him with a deep anger.

“Leith took my sword!” he had told her, his small jaw set, his eyes blazing.

He should have been sorry, of course. He loved his mother deeply and was sorry to disappoint her.

But he would not back down.

“The land is his! Dubhlain is his!” The little wooden sword had been in his hand, and so he had lifted it high. “I will defend his right to it to the death against any invader!” he had vowed passionately. “But
this sword,
Mother,
is
mine!”

The words were so sure and so passionate,
the queen had thought. Her son was so proud, so determined!

A pain had clenched at her heart, for despite his youth, she had suddenly realized, he would be like his father. He would love his brothers and sisters, honor the land of his birth.

But he would need more, crave more,
fight
for more.

She"d bitten her lip. Indeed, he was like a miniature version of the great
Wolf
of Norway,
as were several of her sons, but perhaps none so much as this one!

His hair was pure gold, his brows were high arched, his face was a little
man’s
face, finely, ruggedly hewn.

His eyes were that cold Nordic blue of his father"s people. Bright blue, direct blue, impaling blue. He was a boy, but it was so very hard to look away from those eyes! He stood like his father, tall already, nearly her own height. His shoulders gave promise of great breadth.

And his will …

Was one of steel.

He had waved in the air the wooden sword he had so determinedly retrieved.

“I am a younger son, Mother,” he had explained impatiently. “But I will not have
everything
taken away from me!”

“You are the younger son of a king known round the civilized world,” she had reminded him shrewdly, “And—”

“I will make my mark upon that world!” he had said defiantly.

She had thrown up her hands suddenly. “Your behavior today is horrid!

You"re acting just like a Viking—”

“But my father is a Viking, Mother.”

She had inhaled and exhaled, trying to control her temper. She"d already survived this temperament once. Was she going to have to do so again?

“A very Irish Viking, my son. Tamed by the land, tamed by—”

“You?” he had suggested impishly.

Her emerald eyes had widened as she started, then she laughed. “Nay, I think not! And don"t you dare say such a thing to him! He is a Viking, but a civilized one. One who reads, one who thinks, one who judges and is fair, one who
learns
everything about a people.”

“Still a Viking.”

“Fine, fine, my young Lord Wolf! Your Viking father has gone to the cliffs, so, my love, go bring your complaints to him!”

Standing very tall and very straight and angry all over again, he had started to walk away. “My son!” she had called to him.

He"d turned back. “I love you!” she"d called softly.

Some of the anger had gone out of him. He had smiled in return and run on, outside the walls of his home, and across green fields to the rise of cliffs, and there he had found his father.

Standing there, the ultimate warrior, one booted foot set high upon a rock as he stared out to sea.

“Do you miss it, Father?”

The king turned to him. “Never, son, for I have found my place in life.” He sighed. “They accuse us—Vikings—of evil deeds, and of so many we are guilty! But, my son, I never came to ravage the land. I came to take it, aye, but always to build upon it. I brought it strength, and it brought me …”

“Aye, Father?”

“It brought me beauty and peace. A place to call home. It brought me your mother.”

The youth smiled. He stood next to his father, one doeskin-booted foot high upon the cliff, his arms crossed over his chest, his blue eyes out upon the sea. It called to him, just as the legends of his father"s gods called to him, the great warriors feasting in Valhalla, the angry Wodin riding his eight-legged horse across the skies.

“It can be good to sail,” his father said softly. “Good to seek. Good to go a-Viking. To lift your sword for another, perhaps, to find your rightful place.” He met his father"s eyes. “I
will
sail the seas!” he vowed passionately, small golden head thrown back, wooden sword facing toward the heavens, toward those gods of his father"s people, Wodin and Thor, toward tempest, thunder and lightning. His cloak flew in the wind behind him. He closed his eyes and felt the sea air.

“I will sail the seas,” he repeated more softly. “And I will find my rightful place upon this earth, and rule there! I will be the law, and I will bring the peace. I cannot be king of Dubhlain like my father, but I will be his son. They will call me
Lord of the Wolves,
Father, like the great Wolf of Norway! Indeed, Father, I will fight for right—”

“And for what is yours?” the king mentioned shrewdly, amused, yet knowing that this was the way it would be.

“And for what is mine, always! Fighting is how one acquires land, Father, isn"t it?”

The king grinned. “Well, son, there"s that. And then, one can marry for it, too.”

“Marry for it or fight for it,” he mused.

The king laughed. “And sometimes, son, it"s really quite one and the same.” The golden-haired boy looked out to the sea again. “I will go a-Viking, I will have my rightful place, however much I must fight for it—others, or my wife!” A crack of lightning tore across the sky. The king looked up to it.

Mergwin would call it an omen, the Norse king of Dubhlain thought. Then he felt something, he didn"t know what, not unease, but a warning. He knew, without turning, that Mergwin himself was behind him, staring at the boy, and looking to the heavens.

The king sighed. “All right, magician. What is it you"re about to tell me?” Mergwin, long white hair and beard flying in the wind, stared at the king, affronted. “I am not a magician, Olaf of Norway.”

“Druid, aye, and rune master!” Olaf said wearily. The boy turned and flashed a quick smile to the old man, then stared back at the sea, his eyes intense.

“Do you mock me?” Mergwin asked. “After all these years, king of Dubhlain?”

Olaf smiled. “Tell me, then. You vowed once that Leith would live long and well, and rule wisely. You promised a tempest for Eric upon his birth. Now …

what say you about Conar?”

“Well, I don"t know, milord Viking, what would you have me do? Slay a lamb and pray to the ancient gods? Ah, but then I am like the boy, half Irish and half Norse. But it is the Norse I see in him today. Close your eyes, great king.

Imagine the man!”

Olaf wasn"t sure he really closed his eyes at all. For a moment he was convinced he saw his son as a man, regally tall, golden, a man of taut muscle and sinew, a warrior to defy any enemy of god or man.

“Aye, great king, this son will travel, too!” Mergwin prophesied softly. “He will be a mighty power, strong and shrewd. And he will sail …”

“Sail where?” the king asked.

Mergwin hesitated, frowning. “His journeys will take him south across the channel, he will quickly claim what it is that he seeks …”

“Then?” Olaf demanded.

“Then he will have to fight to keep it. And …
it,
and
her!
It will not be easy.

Vast hordes will come, a battle as has never been imagined must in the end ensue.”

“Her?
Mergwin, who is the
her?”

Mergwin shrugged, looking to the boy who stood so tall, straight and proud, blue eyes trained out to sea.

He sighed, eyes twinkling as they met those of the king of Dubhlain.

“No sacrificial lamb in the ancient Druid way, eh, milord? Nay, nay, that wouldn"t be right!” He clutched a bag that hung from his robe belt and shook it slightly. “Remember, my king, that I am like the boy, partly Viking, partly Irish, and that is why I am so strong! For a Viking lad, then, I must cast Viking stones!”

Viking! Olaf closed his eyes, suddenly certain that his son would go a-Viking, cross the sea to distant lands.

And there he would find a woman, one to battle, one to marry, and their lives
might well be at risk again and again, for they would be at odds, and fighting
one another …

He had wanted peace for his sons. But it was not a peaceful world.

He looked to the boy, and he saw himself, and he knew that whatever sorrow it caused him, he would have to see him go.

Mergwin suddenly stooped, shook the bag, and cast his finely carved wooden runes upon the earth.

The wind howled. Lightning slashed against the sky again.

“Indeed, like his father, he will be called the Lord of the Wolves!” Mergwin said.

Olaf stared at his son, then back to the ground, looking at the symbols upon each of the little wooden squares. Mergwin looked up to him, grinning.

“Indeed, it will be so, the lightning has decreed it so, just as if Wodin himself had etched the words across the sky!”

“Umm,” Olaf said, crossing his arms over his chest. “And pray tell, old man, just what else has Wodin etched across the sky. Where will he sail? Who is this woman, this—
her?”

“Patience, milord, patience!” Mergwin advised, and grinned mischievously.

Arching a brow, he looked to the tall boy upon the cliff, then back to Olaf.

“Let"s look to the stones, Wolf of Norway, let"s look to the stones! The Viking way, for a Viking prince …”

“And the woman?” the Wolf demanded.

“Aye! And the woman!” Mergwin agreed. “She"s very beautiful …”

“But troublesome, I imagine.”

“Like a tempest!” Mergwin agreed, laughing. But then the laughter faded from his eyes and his voice grew thoughtful and grave. “Aye, indeed, tempests whip ahead, the enemy will number in the thousands, and to best them all, they must survive …”

“Survive what?”

Mergwin rubbed his beard. “Themselves, I believe.”

“Read further!” the king commanded.

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