Read Odin's Shadow (Sons Of Odin Book 1) (9th Century Viking Romance) Online

Authors: Erin S. Riley

Tags: #Ireland, #Fiction, #9th Century, #Romance, #Viking, #Norway, #Viking Ship, #Hasty Marriage, #Secrets, #Brothers, #Historical Romance, #Irish Bride, #Viking Warlord Husband, #Adult

Odin's Shadow (Sons Of Odin Book 1) (9th Century Viking Romance)

BOOK: Odin's Shadow (Sons Of Odin Book 1) (9th Century Viking Romance)
2.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Table of Contents


Sons of Odin Series



New York




Cover Design by Victoria Vane

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.

Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
P.O. Box 24

Macedon, New York, 14502

ISBN: 978-1-61935—
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

For my daughter Savannah—

A beautiful young woman with

an even more beautiful spirit.

I love you more than all the stars in the sky.


Thank you to my husband and children for supporting my need to write, including a willingness to eat ramen noodles for supper without complaint whenever I’m on a roll. A special thanks to Carmen Vanscyoc, Nicole Armstrong, and Kelley Franks, three wonderful friends who were my first readers and are still my biggest supporters, and to Kim Freeman, a dear friend who never tires of discussing story ideas with me. Thank you to fellow writers Susan Ward and Terry Wilson for their positive feedback and encouragement through this sometimes overwhelming journey. Thank you to Regan Walker and Carol Cork for their support. And a heartfelt thank you to Diana Deyo, a friend who refused to let me give up. Above all, thank you to my mother, Karen S. Ward, who was taken from this world too soon but taught me what unconditional love truly is. Everything I am and everything I will be, I owe to her.

I am so grateful to Debby Gilbert from Soul Mate Publishing for providing the opportunity for me to pursue my dreams. A special thanks goes to Victoria Vane, cover designer extraordinaire. And finally, thank you to my brilliant editor, Char Chaffin, who understood my vision from the beginning and who polished my story with unwavering patience.


Ireland, 860 A.D.

Niall Ó Murchú opened the door to the house he had not been inside for nearly a year. The interior was very still. Very quiet. He gazed at the familiar surroundings as a nauseating wave of loneliness gripped his belly. Specks of dust caught in a sunbeam that streamed in through the open door. Silence enveloped him like Sile's shroud.

But if he closed his eyes he could almost imagine she still dwelled inside. Maybe she was in the kitchen and any moment would come to greet him, then chide him for tracking in mud on his boots. He smiled, remembering how she would settle into his embrace, tucking her head under his chin. Her hair always smelled so sweet.

Niall stood in the doorway for a long time, as though to enter the house would make Sile’s death real.

No. He wasn’t ready to go inside yet. Niall turned to set the horse to graze. He unloaded his goods from the wagon, stacking the crates of fabric into neat piles next to the front door, then trudged to the stream behind the house. As he dipped his pitcher into the water, he heard a noise on the other side and glanced up. What he saw made the hackles rise on the back of his neck.

There, sitting across the stream, were two small, dark headed children. They were wearing the genderless smocks of youth so it was impossible to tell if they were male or female. Their gaze was as silvery and fathomless as those of changelings.

"Hello," he said, feeling foolish. "Where is your mother?"

Not surprisingly given their age, they didn't reply, but only blinked at him like tiny owls. One of them, even from this distance, appeared to have two blackened eyes in the late stages of healing. Niall shivered.

"Hello!" He called louder, hoping to alert whoever they were with. He didn't have much experience with children, but even he knew that the combination of a moving body of water and small children was an invitation for disaster. Who would have left them unattended?

The woods were quiet, and the children didn't move. Neither did they take their eyes off him.
, a voice whispered in his head, but he pushed the thought away. He was not a superstitious man.

Niall splashed across the stream toward the children. They scrambled to their feet and toddled off, with Niall following them until the children stopped next to the still figure of a woman lying on the ground. They looked at her, then back up at him, as if expecting him to do something. One of the children made an unintelligible chattering sound and the other child nodded. For the second time the gooseflesh rose on Niall's neck, and he felt an almost overwhelming urge to run.

The woman was dead, but judging from the appearance of the body, hadn't been dead for long. Her clothing was filthy, and her slack mouth revealed that she was missing most of her teeth. Most likely a peasant. Niall knelt down next to her. There was a puddle of blood on the rock behind her head. Had the poor woman slipped on the wet undergrowth and struck her head when she fell? Niall looked again at the two children who knelt beside the woman.

"Is this your mamai?" he asked.

Their faces brightened at the word. "Mamai?" one of them repeated, looking at him with hopeful eyes.

Niall took the children into Baile Átha Cliath to search for someone who might know their identity. He felt uneasy about leaving the body in the woods, but if he could find the woman's husband or family they would want to bury her themselves. However, no one in the village had any idea who the strange children belonged to, and he was faced with the dilemma of what to do with them as darkness fell. He was tired and hungry, and the unwashed smell emanating from the children was overpowering. He wanted very much to be rid of them.

"Niall Ó Murchú." A familiar voice spoke from behind him, and he turned to find his former servant, Eithne, walking up to him. He had let her go after Sile’s death and had not expected to ever see her again. Niall had not, in fact, expected to see anyone again. He had instead hoped his long sea voyage would prove deadly.

Eithne had a worried expression on her homely face as she took in the sight of the children in Niall’s wagon. A deep groove always settled in between her eyebrows when she was worried. He had forgotten about that. That groove had gotten progressively deeper during Sile’s agonizing three days of labor.

Niall shook his head to clear it, and smiled at his former servant. She would know what to do.

Eithne lived with her sister's family. This arrangement was not to her liking, as she was quick to offer to go home with Niall to care for the children until he could find out who they belonged to. Niall would have preferred to simply leave them with Eithne and go home alone, but took the offer as probably the best he would get. And so while Eithne went to find her sister to tell her of her plans, Niall bought some food and provisions to last a few days, then they took the children home.

The days stretched into a fortnight and still Niall was no closer to finding the family of the children. After the first two days he had resigned himself and buried the mother’s body in the woods. If someone wanted to dig up the woman and move her, they would be welcome to do so.

Eithne was childless herself and seemed to take great delight in caring for the children. She washed them, fed them, and sewed them tiny clothes. She made the girl's smock in blue wool and the boy's in green, to more easily tell them apart. Clean, the children were even more beautiful than Niall had at first imagined. The longer it took to find their family, the more the rumors would spread that he had two dangerous fairy children in his home.

In desperation, he had even gone to Dubhlinn in search of someone who might know who they belonged to. He didn't bring the children this time—the Finngalls had a distasteful habit of selling Irish captives into slavery. Niall was growing fond of the twins despite himself, and couldn't stomach the thought of them being hurt in any way.

But Dubhlinn had proved pointless, and he had finally been forced to face the situation for what it was. The children were orphaned, their mother buried in the woods, and Niall was the only thing standing between them and an uncertain future. He needed to make a decision.

The following day he brought the twins to the priest and had them baptized. He called the boy Ainnileas and the girl Selia, a variation of the name of his beloved wife. And then it was done; they were his.

God had given him the family that had been robbed from him with Sile's death.

Chapter 1

Ireland, 876 AD

The butcher ran a hand through his lank blond hair, studying Selia until her cheeks grew hot. His thumb brushed her hand as he handed her a wrapped parcel. She took a quick step back.

"Anything else, Miss?" His Norse accent was so strong she had difficulty understanding him. She blinked at him for a moment too long and he smiled, obviously enjoying her confusion. His teeth were worn down to rotten brown nubs.

He continued gawking at her as though she were the type of woman who would welcome his crude attention. Unpleasant little man. Selia averted her gaze and managed to keep her face expressionless. According to Eithne, it was almost an art to keep one's face arranged in a look of distant politeness that served to discourage any unwanted advances. No direct eye contact and no smiling. Men thought a smile meant so much more than it did.

"Willow bark," she said, too low to be heard over the crowd. She couldn't contain a shudder as the man leaned in closer. She spoke louder. "Where can I find an herb seller?"

He stroked the coarse hair of his beard, smiling, and finally cocked his head in the direction of the river. "Last stall. Don't let the hag sell you weeds."

Selia nodded as she hurried away. She made her way through the rough crowd, keeping her head down and the hood of her cloak up. Dubhlinn was large, and congested with a surprising assortment of people—native Irish, of course, and Norse, but also others of nationalities she was unfamiliar with. Men with strange clothing and smooth, honey-colored skin, speaking in a rapid language that sounded loud and angry. Other men who by dress and physical appearance seemed to be Irish, but those conversations were just as unintelligible as the shouters.

It was easy to become mesmerized by the rhythm of the words. If she had more time she would slow her pace and savor the exotic sounds. But if she dallied too long, Eithne would become suspicious.

The herb woman—neither a hag nor a seller of weeds—was native Irish. At least Selia wouldn't have to try to string Norse words into a sentence again as she had with the butcher, who had let her struggle for a few moments before revealing he spoke Irish. She bought a large packet of willow bark, then turned to go on her way.

The woman put a hand on her arm to stop her. "Surely you're not going toward the harbor."


"Why?" The woman's voice sounded too loud, and several people turned to look.

Selia winced. The last thing she needed was to draw attention to herself.

"Don't you know what's at the docks? A girl like you shouldn't even be out this far, alone," the woman said.

"I'm meeting my father. His ship is at the docks."

"Well . . ." the herb woman seemed uncertain. "Mind you stay away from the dragonships, then."

So they were still there—she wasn't too late. Selia managed an expression of appropriate concern. "I thought they were gone."

"No. The market's been crawling with Finngalls today. Two went by just a few moments ago, as a matter of fact. I'm surprised your father didn't keep you at home until after they sailed." The woman frowned as Selia turned once again to leave. "Put your hood up, at least, child."

Selia hesitated for a moment before pulling up her hood. When had she lowered it? She mentally retraced her steps through the market, willing herself to remember, but there was nothing. This was exactly the reason her father and Eithne were reluctant to let her out of the house alone.

Coming to Dubhlinn had been a mistake, after all.

Selia straightened resolutely. She hadn't made it this far only to turn around now. She would do what she had come here to do, and wipe the smug look from her brother's face once and for all. She saw Ainnileas in her mind's eye, jaw agape, struck dumb by her boldness when he learned of her adventure. She had to bite her lip to keep from smiling.

Several days ago their father had warned Ainnileas about the dragonships in Dubhlinn and forbidden him to venture there, and although Selia was present for the warning she hadn't been included in it. The mere thought of
sneaking away to Dubhlinn was preposterous.

Ainnileas, of course, had gone to the harbor yesterday morning, watching the Finngalls for several hours as they unloaded cargo from their ships to trade at the market. One of the foreigners had spoken directly to him. The man had either ordered him to get out of his way, or had called him a skinny dog—Ainnileas was unsure about that part, since his grasp of the Norse language was limited. But it hadn't stopped him from coming home to gloat.

A year or two ago Selia would not have hesitated to hit him. But she was a young woman now, much too old to strike the smirk from her brother's face. Seething, she had assaulted the bread dough with such vigor that Eithne made her stop before she ruined their supper.

But her luck had changed this morning with the maid’s female troubles. Eithne had planned to go to the market at Baile Átha Cliath, the village only a mile or so from their home, to buy a sausage for supper. But after a long hour of listening to the maid moan and mutter under her breath, cursing her womanhood, Selia offered to go to the market and buy fixings for the evening meal. She kept the offer as nonchalant as possible, for although Eithne was a servant, she was not a stupid woman.

Eithne had given her a sharp look as though assessing her options. Selia was not known to be particularly helpful or selfless, so she knew any such offer made would be regarded with suspicion. She kept to her spinning and willed her face to remain impassive.

The maid grimaced. "Don't know if your father would like that, my girl."

Selia shrugged and continued working. "All right. Go yourself, then."

A half hour later, Eithne called on the saints for mercy, and Selia took this as a sign in her favor. She suggested a cup of willow bark tea as she deftly pulled the wool.

The woman moaned. Selia had put her spinning down to rummage through the cupboards, pretending to look for the packet of willow bark. She’d used the last of it days ago for a headache, but Eithne didn't know that.

"Oh . . . I'm sorry. We don't have any." Selia gave her a look of deep sympathy. Eithne's eyes flashed and Selia feared she had pushed her too far, but then the woman doubled over with a gasp.

"All right! All right, little miss. But you go straight to the market and straight back—no dallying. Stay away from the crowds and don't speak to anyone. Do you understand me, Selia?"

"Of course." Selia had been careful to hide her smile as she donned her cloak and collected her basket. She
go straight to the market.

In Dubhlinn.

Selia left the main road and climbed to the top of a grassy hill close enough to the harbor to provide a good view. The hill had several mature trees that would protect her from any prying eyes who might notice her presence, namely her father or his acquaintances. She was not foolish enough to go directly to the docks as her brother had.

Characteristic of the eastern coast of Ireland, the weather had shifted from winter to spring seemingly overnight. The air was warm and fragrant, and the grass soft beneath her feet. She sat down, a bit out of breath from the climb. She
see a Finngall today, and wait on this hill until she did.

Selia and Ainnileas had been raised listening to stories of the Finngalls. Although their father was not much of a storyteller, Eithne had a talent for it, and the more horrific and brutal the account the more her eyes would sparkle with the telling. Of course the woman had never actually
a Finngall face to face, as she found the walk to Dubhlinn very tiresome and had only been there a handful of times when she was much younger. Now the maid could barely make it to Baile Átha Cliath without wheezing and sweating so badly, Selia feared Eithne would collapse and die on the road.

According to Eithne, Ireland had been breached and raided countless times by various foreigners, but only the Finngalls had stayed. Several decades before, a group of them had recognized Dubhlinn to be a desirable trading center and had overtaken and claimed it as their own. Now, most of the inhabitants of the city were second-generation Northmen, no longer considered Finngalls by the native Irish, and yet not quite Irish either. There was an uneasy understanding between them and the Irish people who lived in Dubhlinn. Most of the native Irish still lived in Baile Átha Cliath, the outlying village where Selia and her family lived.

These settled Northmen had been in Dubhlinn for so long that they spoke both languages and had adopted many Irish customs—including for some, Christianity. Many of them had intermarried with the native Irish. They were therefore no longer a threat, or at least not a pressing one. The butcher was one such an example.

The Finngalls—or Vikingers, as they called themselves—were an altogether different story. It was the tales of these men that the maid spun, and it was these tales Selia never tired of hearing.

The word Finngall meant "white foreigner," and Eithne claimed the Finngalls to be indeed as pale and bloodless as the ice from which they emerged. They came from a land of darkness far to the north, a land where the sun remained hidden for most of the year and where no green thing could grow. Even in the summer the sun was too weak to melt the thick layer of ice that covered the land as far as the eye could see.

Food was scarce in this savage land, and the Finngalls hunted all sorts of beasts for their meat—their favorite was that of a white bear that stood so tall, even the giant Finngalls themselves were dwarfed by the creature. In the winter, when the snow was too deep to allow the men to hunt, Eithne claimed the Finngalls killed their Irish slaves and ate them.

The women of this land were as fierce as the men. At birth, each child was carried by its mother into a den of wolves to be laid down for inspection. The wolves would sniff and scrutinize the child, and if it was found lacking in any way they would tear it apart on the spot. An infant who found favor with the beasts would be suckled by a she-wolf, and only then would the human mother put the child to her own breast and raise it. Therefore every living Finngall had the essence of the wolf flowing through his veins.

Eithne whispered that some of them—perhaps those who were nursed too long by the she-wolves—could actually shape shift into the form of the beasts, and would tear an opponent apart in battle with fang and claw instead of sword and axe.

The Finngalls came several times a year to raid the smaller villages along the coast of Ireland, leaving nothing behind but acrid smoke and the bodies of the dead. They would then spend several days in Dubhlinn to trade their stolen goods and celebrate their victories. The ale houses would do a brisk business, and there would be an increase in the number of murders and rapes. And, typically, every year, a young woman or two would disappear, never to be seen or heard from again.

According to most accounts, these missing girls had been taken as concubines for the Finngall chieftains. But Eithne had heard other, darker stories of human sacrifice. The northern gods demanded blood, and the blood of a beautiful Irish maiden was their preference. Eithne’s gaze would always wander over to Selia whenever she recounted this, as though at that moment she had come to the horrible realization Selia would make a lovely sacrifice. Then she would break into laughter, and Selia would laugh too, even as a shiver of fear traveled up her spine. The woman was an excellent storyteller.

Selia loved the stories, and would have the maid tell them again and again. Although Eithne meant the tales to be cautionary, Selia found they had the opposite effect on her, for the thought of the wild Finngalls made her pulse quicken and her breath catch in her throat.

It wasn't proper for a good Irish girl to be so enamored of foreign men who had carved a bloody trail through the coast of Ireland, so for the most part Selia kept silent about it. But her brother knew.

Ainnileas, as he got older, had the opportunity to see Finngalls up close when he was with their father, and even to speak to them on occasion. He had outgrown whatever childish allure he had once felt for the foreigners. Selia knew Ainnileas hadn’t gone to the harbor yesterday to satisfy his own curiosity, but instead to do what gave him endless delight—provoke the wrath of his sister.

Selia lowered the hood of her cloak and peered down at the harbor. There was only one ship docked—Ainnileas said he had seen three. Thankfully Eithne's female troubles had come today instead of tomorrow, or Selia might have missed the ships altogether.

The day was warm, and several Finngalls had stripped to their breeches. Sweat glistened on their pale torsos as they worked to transfer cargo from the ship to the docks. They called out to each other, but she wasn't close enough to hear what they were saying. And even if she could, the odds were scarce they were using words she knew.

Two of the men appeared to be arguing. One gestured to an item being loaded onto the ship, as though laying claim to it. Selia giggled as the other man stomped about, yelling to the crew as if trying to sway them to his side. He finally shoved the first man over the side of the ship and into the sea, bringing an immediate round of cheers from the rest of the crew.

The Finngall came up sputtering, shaking his fist, while the second man untied his breeches and aimed a perfect stream of urine down on the man in the water. The bay rang with the laughter of the Finngalls, until an older man pushed the urinator aside. He reached over the rail of the ship to pull the disgraced Finngall back up.

Selia snorted with laughter. This story would be
better than Ainnileas’ account of being called a skinny dog. She would make that infuriating boy green with envy before she was finished with him.

There was a deep male chuckle behind her, much too close, and every hair on the nape of her neck stood at sudden, panicked attention. She leapt to her feet and knocked over the basket. The sausage parcel rolled out into the dirt toward the man who was leaning against a tree behind her.

BOOK: Odin's Shadow (Sons Of Odin Book 1) (9th Century Viking Romance)
2.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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