My new release, The Eagle’s Woman, is a project that has long been in my mind. Book I of a series to be titled The Eagle, it begins the journey of Ari and Maeve.
The year is 856 A.D. Son of an impoverished, ailing Norse chieftain, Ari raids for booty and slaves in order to feed his people. Pagan himself, still he spares priests although he sells them. He is a heathen…a murderer. It is a sin for any Christian woman to love him.
Maeve is the simple daughter of simple people, from an Irish fishing village so remote it has never experienced a raid. She has heard of Vikings, but never seen one. That is about to change.
“What?” Ari asked, reaching with his free hand to take her chin in it. His thumb caressed her bottom lip and she thought she was not out of danger with him, no matter how disheveled her appearance. This man wanted her, no doubt of it. Not enough to commit violence on her, apparently, but she thought gentleness held its own dangers. If she was not careful, it could weaken her will. He was not unattractive—with fair skin, strong angular features and striking eyes—though just then he looked like a drowned rat as all of them did. It did not obscure the strength of his body or the keen intelligence in those eyes. She turned her head to the side, dislodging his thumb.
“I have not seen tears from you before,” he said thoughtfully, “though many of the others are crying. What has finally broken you?”
“I am not broken,” she spat, “only mourning two good people who raised me. But I am sure you know nothing of such feelings.”
He sat back on his heels. “Do I not? Two good people raised me as well. One lies crippled in his sickbed and the other waits for me to bring coin to buy things a sick man needs.”
Maeve was silent, surprised and momentarily chastened. She had never seriously supposed he had motives other than greed.
“Do you think raiding is worthy of a fighting man?” he persisted. “I would rather face an army than hungry children.”
She stifled an impulse toward sympathy. “Ours are dead or captive. You seem to have no trouble facing that.”
Abruptly, he set both feet beneath himself and got up, undaunted by the motion of the ship which made such things impossible for Maeve. She had not noticed a wineskin hanging from the rigging, but she saw him reach for it then. “I cannot help your children.” He took a fulsome swig. “Just mine.” Wiping the neck with his wet tunic, he held the wineskin out to her.
It was decent wine, probably from their monastery, tasting of strength and summer. She needed strength to remember that summer would come again, so she drank.
I was amazed and a little intimidated when I first began researching this book and realized just how much work bringing that back-of-my-mind dream was going to entail. I knew about the Viking longships, the Berserkers…I even had a notion about how their concept of trial by judge would filter down into English Common Law via the Norman invasion to become our modern trial-by-jury. This will come into play in Book II, The Eagle’s Lady.
But I didn’t know much about the private code of conduct so integral to Viking life. Viking society was permeated by the notion of honor, or drengskapr, and shame, or nior. In stark contrast to our present-day image of heated Berserker frenzy in battle, the Viking in his private life was valued for self control, bravery, generosity, sense of fair play and respect for the right way of doing things. A stoic and imperturbable manner was considered highly honorable. Cowardice, treachery, kin-killing and oath-breaking constituted dishonorable, shameful behavior that could even result in temporary or permanent banishment. Taunts issued through—of all things—poetry could get you outlawed, and accusing another man of effeminate behavior was signing your own death warrant. Viking law allowed for lethal reprisal.
Matters of honor were often settled by duel with swords, spears and axes. This
took place before witnesses in the context of a carefully orchestrated ritual. In Iceland, men were required to duel within the area which could be covered by a cloak, often on a small island in a river, which prevented retreat or interference. The first man to become disarmed was the loser. If his opponent then cut him down, he could be outlawed, which meant he was banished and was essentially free game to anyone who wished to kill him, and someone usually did. Again, this will come into play in my second book of the series. Quite a difference from our image of the out-of-control raider decimating peaceful villages, isn't it?
SEE “THE EAGLE’S WOMAN” AT THE FOLLOWING LINKS: