Authors: Catherine Sharp
The longships snaked through the water as lithe as serpents, but the sea was rough. The men were wondering if the sea god Aegir would bless this voyage or curse it. Whenever the sun came out, a joyous cheer would erupt.
, Drakkars, were at least seventy five feet long with a fearsome looking dragon head at the bow, guiding their journey. Both Drakkars had sixteen pairs of oars with weapons stored near the crew’s rowing positions. The crewman’s sea chest doubled as their rowing bench and wrangling the huge ship was a demanding job. The men’s lean muscles tensed with each passage of the great oars as they dipped into the sea and reached high into the sky before the process began again. They didn’t seem to mind this grueling toil, even rejoiced in the pleasure of the sun, the ships, and the sea. It was, after all, a Norse tradition and each and every man was proud of their prowess and deep connection with Aegir.
The Viking shields decorat
ing the side of the ship gave it even a more fearsome appearance. At times the wind would gust and they would be able to pull the oars into the ship through the slits by the oar holes and let the wind push the ship to the journey’s end. The trip had been five days of rough seas and miserable rain, a truly arduous voyage, but nothing these battle-hardened, seasoned sailors were not used to. One day the crew heard the words they were waiting for, “Let the ravens fly,” but the birds never returned to the ship, the significance of that being land. The expected first cry of “sea gulls” brought about a raucous cheer and everyone knew that the time was afoot. They were near land and their reason for coming here was at hand, Saxon riches. This was not the first time they had set foot on English soil. Most of Eriik Thorennson, Jarl of Jaedon’s encounters with the Saxons had left him unimpressed. Eriik considered one battle and only one battle with the English interesting. The participants of that battle had been English knights. He considered only these knights worthy combatants, but the country in general was fair game to enrich the Norse coffers. Their land was rocky and cold most of the year. They needed these raids to supplement the treasury. Besides, they were Vikings and it was in their nature to go raiding. It had been passed down since Eriik was a small boy and even before. They had always raided to the east in the past, but in the last several years, since Eriik had been in charge, they had found the way to travel west, to the Saxon lands. Eriik was always thirsty for knowledge of this land. Familiarity was key in order for their raids to be successful. It was an advantage he had acquired from a slave he claimed from one of the first raids carried out on a monastery in England from an island called Lindisfarne. The priest he had taken home from that raid had not only taught him the English language but gave him understanding of the Saxon land he needed. Everyone in the Norse village thought him a complete dolt for picking a priest over silver and gold, but it turned out to be an ingenious choice. The priest knew not only of English lands and riches, but facts and wisdom that turned out to be precious to the Viking raiders. By the time two raids had been completed, Eriik’s expertise had yielded the Norsemen five times more gold and silver than any of the previous raids together. He was famous and heralded among them as being exceptionally wise, and so he was, through knowledge. They were a superstitious race and felt as if a sea journey would surely fail without Eriik, that the gods were benevolent toward him. This was the third journey but the most perilous by far. They were sailing with two longships, doubling the risk. A monastery was not the easy target this time. Their destination was a castle further inland. This held danger twofold, they would have to cross over land, and castles were usually defended by the knights Eriik respected. But the Norsemen had the god Thor on their side. He had brought them here safely and that was a good sign. They had no doubt they were the better warriors than even the English knights. They were ready, and the riches were there for the taking.
The longships anchored just outside the reefs and the landing boats were launched. Although the longships could actually beach, it was not safe to do so. Sentries were left on board to
protect the precious ships. The landing party gathered on the beach with their weapons and shields, and if they had been spotted, it would have brought terror to the bravest of souls. They indeed looked like demons from hell. These men were tall and muscular and aching for a fight. Some had swords and bows and arrows. Others had swords and axes, but all were heavily armed and knew exactly how to wield their weapon. No Norseman was afraid to die, instead welcoming it as each warrior would travel swift and straight as an arrow to be welcomed into the Halls of Valhalla with open arms if they found death in battle. Freya, the Goddess of Love and Beauty would show them the way.
They were looking for a suitable
camp site between the beach and the castle, so at the cock’s crow they could walk the distance while Sol, the god who drives the sun chariot, would make only one rotation across the sky, before they reached their destination.
The morning began at Castle Devorn as usual and proceeded as every other day except for the fact that Lillian could feel a tension she couldn’t explain. It must be that horrid Lord Montfort.
Oh God, the way he leered at her made her blood run cold.
Whenever he touched her with his cold, damp hand, she winced and sometimes felt as if she would actually vomit.
Why won’t he leave?
He’d been there far too long
She knew of her mother’s hopes and political dreams and understood she anticipated help from Lord Montfort. Why her mother thought the lord would support her aspirations Lillian had no idea, but how she wished he would keep his mind on the business at hand and leave her alone!
the drawing room, Lord Frederick and Lady Beatrice were in a heated argument about their only daughter. She was of marrying age and that was the subject at hand. Lillian was lovely with long, thick, sable hair with fiery auburn highlights and the deepest emerald eyes. Frederick loved her with all his heart. She was his little girl and she had him wound around her little finger since the day she was born. Her mother, on the other hand considered Lillian a way to bring status and esteem onto the house of Devorn.
Their guest, the wealthy Lord Simon Montfort had made his intentions very clear when he offered his hand in marriage
for Lady Lillian to her father. Lord Devorn was a minor Lord, whereas Lord Montfort was powerful, with wealth and prestige. He knew the King of Wessex himself, King Egbert, and even had his ear, or so it was said. An alliance with Lord Montfort would be a coup in itself, and could open up worlds Beatrice had only dreamt of; power for her husband and herself, riches, even invitations to the royal palace perhaps. Visions such as these made her giddy with greed. After all, she deserved that kind of life, not this tedious country life filled with pigs, goats and lowly peasants. Lady Beatrice didn’t see how they could turn down such a grand proposition.
“But my dear, I promised Lillian I would only give her hand in marriage out of love. She doesn’t love Montfort, in fact, she can barely tolerate being in the same room with him
.” Beatrice practically spat the word. “When does love make a good match? Why she’s too young and silly to even know what she wants, certainly not to make a momentous decision such as this. Lord Montfort is wise, wealthy, influential, and can give our Lillian anything and everything she could ever want.”
Frederick was saddened by the thought.
decided to try a different tact, “Darling, I know we both want Lillian to be happy. I personally think that after she gets used to the idea, she will be, but let’s look at this from a different perspective, shall we? We really have no choice. She is of marrying age. No other suitor equal to Lord Montfort has asked for her hand in marriage. She turns her snooty little nose up at all of them anyway. Instead she keeps herself buried in her books in the library or staring starry-eyed from the tower. This kind of match doesn’t come along every day and just think what political influence we could acquire. Isn’t it our duty to do the best for our only daughter? Perhaps she will be happy with the proposal when she really thinks about it. Besides, do you want us to be stuck out here in the middle of the country our entire lives, missing out on all the grand balls and…oh my.” Her eyes filled with tears,
“Beatrice, I’m so sorry. Please don’t cry. Perhaps a conversation with Lillian wouldn’t hurt.”
She ran her fingernails provocatively up and down Frederick’s arm and he melted in her embrace, as expected.
“Frederick, darling, I knew you would see the sense in it after all.”
During the meal, Lord Montfort insisted on sitting right beside Lillian, ruining her appetite, as usual. Well, she would try to get a few bites down and then retire to her suite. Maybe if she just looked the other way, perhaps focusing on the hounds begging for scraps, anything! After eating just about everything she could without gagging, she turned to her mother and attempted to excuse herself but her mother wouldn’t hear of it. As much as sitting next to that vile man was becoming quite a task, she couldn’t disobey. The meal seemed to go on for an eternity when finally Lord Montfort excused himself and to her delight, retired to his suite quite unexpectedly.
Beatrice patted her hand and whispered, “Lillian
darling, your father and I need a word privately. Would you join us in the drawing room?”
Of course, Mother.” She couldn’t help but roll her eyes, behind her mother’s back of course.
They entered the drawing room, the door closed, and her mother turned to Lillian with a gleam in her eye,
“As your mother, you know that I only have your well-being at heart, as does your father.”
Lillian would have loved
to ask her mother when her well-being had ever been in her mother’s heart, and exactly what heart was she speaking of anyway, but decided better of it. Instead she asked, “What’s on your mind mother? I have things I need to do.”
Beatrice said strongly, “
Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking to you young lady.
“As I was saying,
we have your best interest at heart and that’s why Lord Montfort is staying with us, at least part of the reason. I’m sure you’ve been wondering why an important man such as he would be so kind as to spend this much time with us and it’s high time you knew.
“What does Lord Montfort staying with us
have anything to do with me?”
Frederick cut in, “Listen to your mother sweet pea.”
Beatrice continued, “Lord Montfort, as you know, is a powerful and wealthy, as well as inspiring man. This will be a wonderful opportunity for you as well as myself and your father.”
“Mother, you can’t possibly be talking about that
repulsive creature with the damp, cold hands. He looks like a weasel! And
, what could he possibly have to do with me anyway?”
“Lillian, I’ll have no disrespectful talk abo
ut a brilliant man such as the lord. Now mind your manners and let me continue and you’ll understand if you could hold your tongue for a few precious moments.” She straightened the bodice on her gown and cleared her throat, putting the smile back on her skillfully made up face. “You see my darling, he has made a very generous offer to help your father build some very influential contacts, along with other, shall we say, arrangements, which will develop into some grand appointments for your father and myself.
Why exactly would Lord Montfort do such a thing to help us? We hardly know him.”
Well, that’s what I’m trying to explain to you. It would be because of our familial kinship, dear.”
What on earth are you talking about mother!”
Lillian started feeling ill
. She couldn’t believe where her mind was going, such a thing couldn’t even be a possibility, she wouldn’t let herself turn down that path. It had to be something different than what was sweeping through her mind.
Her mother continued, “
We will be related soon. That’s what I meant by an amazing opportunity for you my darling. You see, the lord, such a fine man, has asked your father for your hand in marriage. I can’t imagine a better match and your father agrees!” She was literally clapping her hands with joy.
, her head started to spin. She thought she would be sick. She had to sit down or she knew she would be. It was what she feared. This had to be a nightmare. Her father swore to her that her marriage would be for love, not land or politics. How could he do this to her? He was just sitting there looking like a sheep waiting for slaughter. Why was he not saying something? Anything! He should be telling her mother this was ridiculous, insane, outlandish.
Sweet Pea, I know this is difficult for you to grasp right now…”
“Difficult!” She was approaching hysteria.
“Sweet pea, it’s all so new to you right now, but I think you’ll agree when you have time to sort it all out, that it would be a fine match, don’t you pussycat?”
She couldn’t believe her ears and just as she was about to disagree vehemently with her father’s assessment of the situation,
Lord Montfort opened the door as if he had been outside the entire time. He had probably been eavesdropping. He seemed just slimy enough to do such a thing. He lifted Lillian’s hand and kissed it gently, and again, she thought she would be nauseated. He lifted her hair and kneeled down close enough so that only she could hear. She could smell his fetid breath and feel his offensive touch on her shoulder.
I hear we will be wed soon, and you should count your lucky stars that I, Lord Simon Montfort, would even consider marrying you, the daughter of a Devorn, such a minor noble, barely noble at all I should say. I can state with certainty that I would not entertain the thought whatsoever if you did not please my, uh, randy side. I expect nothing short of complete obedience, considering how many political alliances your buffoon of a father is going to receive from me. Are we clear?” At that moment, he put his tongue in her ear and traveled down her cheek with his slimy tongue.
he felt his spittle on her face and would have slapped him but was sure her mother wouldn’t have believed a word she had to say about the encounter, seeing as the lord had such a brilliant smile pasted on his hateful face.
Her mother was simply beaming, “Now isn’t that nice, you two getting along so well already.”
“Mother, may I be excused,” Lillian said between clenched teeth.
“I suppose so, I’m sure you’ve had an exhausting evening. My little girl is all grown up, isn’t she?”
Lillian ran up the stairs as fast as her gown would allow and washed her face until it stung, to get the filth of his spit off of her. She fell into bed and tried for sleep praying that what she had just experienced had been a nightmare and not real at all, or at least that her father would consider her feelings and change his mind. She finally found restless sleep with strange and frightening dreams, always with a dark and menacing figure lurking nearby. She awoke in a sweat in the middle of the night, unable or unwilling to fall back asleep. Her situation was unfathomable. She had never in her entire life thought she would be facing a fate as horrible as this one. She had believed in her father and his promise. How could he have betrayed her so, simply because of her mother’s influence? She shouldn’t be surprised. Circumstances of her mother winning out had taken place all of her life, but she didn’t think it would happen again, especially in a situation this important, with a man this hideous. She couldn’t help herself as tears streamed down her face. She must have fallen asleep again because when she opened her eyes the sun was shining through her windows. The day was beginning and the birds were chirping and it seemed the world did not know it was ending. Indeed, everything was just as it was last eve, all the events unfortunately had
been a terrible nightmare. It was all there for her to remember in lurid clarity.