Maidensong was my debut title back in 2006 with Dorchester Publishing. Despite the troubles that publisher has been through, I’ll always be grateful to them for giving me my start. However, I’m thrilled to have the rights to Maidensong back again so I can offer it to you as an affordable eBook.
I wrote Maidensong before I realized the majority of historical romance readers were strictly Regency fans. I was fascinated by the lore and legends of the Norse culture, so I set my story in 9th century Scandinavia, home of the Vikings. Since it’s so different than what most romance fans are used to, I’m offering several days of excerpts to give you good taste of the story. If you’re the adventurous sort, I invite you to come with me to visit love in the Dark Ages. As Rika, my skaldic heroine, would say, “I give you . . . Maidensong.”
The babe wailed again.
“There, lamb,” Helge whispered as she sponged the last of the slick fluids off the enraged little body. Flickering light from the central fire kissed the newborn and danced across the smoke-blackened beams of the longhouse.
The old midwife sighed. However difficult the babe’s entry into the world had been, she was at least a healthy child, perfectly formed with all her fingers and toes. A crest of coppery hair was plastered to her damp head.
“Hush you, now,” Helge coaxed.
The wrinkled little face puckered and the newborn shrieked as if Loki, the trickster godling, had just pinched her bottom. Helge wrapped the child snugly in a cat-skin blanket, crooning urgent endearments.
“Shut the brat up,” Torvald said, his voice a broken shadow of its usual booming timbre. All the souls sheltered in the longhouse went expectantly silent. As if she sensed menace in the air, the child subsided into moist hiccups.
“Will you not hold your daughter?” Helge offered the small bundle to Torvald. “She’s a fine child, fair and lusty.”
“No, I’ll not.” Torvald knuckled his eyes. “She’s killed my Gudrid. I’ll have naught to do with her.” When he looked at the mewling babe, his face was a mask of loathing. “Put her out.”
Helge flinched. “But, my lord—”
“Don’t argue with me, woman. Am I not chief over my own house?” Torvald’s gray eyes blazed with a potent mix of fury and grief. “I said, put her out.”
Helge’s shoulders sagged. She couldn’t remember the last time a healthy child had been exposed. But Torvald was master here, so there was nothing for it but to do his bidding.
Still, it didn’t seem right to consign the babe to Hel empty-handed. It was bad enough that she’d go unloved and unmourned to that shadowy, icy place. Even worse, she’d arrive there as a pauper.
Helge laid her little charge on the bedding, and untied the thin strip of leather from the dead woman’s slim neck.
The pendant was a simple little amber hammer, its only distinctive mark a tiny purple orchid trapped forever in the glowing stone. Perhaps Thor would mark the child for his protection if she met her death wearing his talisman. It wasn’t much, but it was all Helge could do for the mite.
She bundled herself against the cold and left the longhouse bearing her whimpering burden. The stiff hairs in her nostrils froze with each breath.
The thought of leaving the child for the wolves made Helge’s chest constrict smartly. She decided to let the sea take her. It would be clean and quick. There’d be less chance of hearing the child’s keening death wail on the wind. And the unhappy little soul would find it harder to trouble those who’d disowned her with malicious tricks later, as some malevolent ghosts were known to do.
Snow crunched underfoot as Helge trudged down to the shore where the fjord was choked with ice. Armed with an ax she picked up as she passed the woodpile, Helge carried the babe as close to the edge of the floe as she dared.
“Good-bye, little elf,” Helge said as she placed the newborn on the smooth, cold surface. “Thor keep you, for I cannot.”
She brought the sharp ax down with a thwack. The brittle ice shattered in a jagged line and separated from the main body of the floe. Helge gave it a nudge with the ax handle.
She watched with a gathering heaviness in her chest as, bobbing and dipping, the tiny bundle on the ice sheet floated out with the tide.
Magnus Silver-Throat, lately court poet to the King of the Danes, pushed back the wiry strand of white hair that drifted across his weathered face. He didn’t really believe in Ketil’s dreams, he told himself. And yet last month when the boy had vehemently insisted they not put to sea on a cloudless day, he’d indulged his son’s fancy. A violent squall had come up that afternoon that surely would’ve swamped their small craft had Magnus kept to his original plan. Ketil’s current dreyma wasn’t nearly so specific. Only that they had to be in this precise spot.
Magnus squinted against the glare of the cold northern sun on the water, not quite believing what he thought he saw. “Ketil, look you starboard and tell me what’s there.”
The nine-year-old twisted on his sea trunk and gazed in the direction his foster-father pointed. His simple face screwed into a frown. “Something on the ice.”
A thin wail floated over the water to his ear.
“It cries,” Ketil said.
Magnus’ mouth tightened as he adjusted the steering oar to swing toward the bobbing mound of fur. “See if you can fetch it out, son. Be careful.”
The boy moved clumsily to the prow of the small boat and leaned over the edge. As they neared the bundle, Ketil grabbed it and hauled it aboard. He weaved back to Magnus.
The man peeled away the soggy wrappings, his mouth fixed in a grim line. The babe was blue with cold, but she stopped whimpering long enough to fasten her pale green eyes on him. His old heart was forever lost in that instant.
“It looks like we’ve fished up a Pictish princess,” he said to the boy. “I don’t think she could be any bluer if we dipped her headfirst in woad.”
“Can we keep it?” Ketil asked, his mouth hanging open. His soft heart always wanted to keep and care for little lost creatures.
“It’s difficult to return a gift from the gods,” Magnus said. “They tend to resent it when you try. Especially since they apparently went to a lot of trouble to send us to find this one.”
As he said it, he eyed the coastline, wondering what calamity could lead someone to abandon such a goodly child. Magnus removed the cat-skin blanket and tucked the babe into the folds of his own warm cloak. Then he reefed the coracle around smartly.
“Winter is harder here than I expected, son.” He searched the shoreline for a clue as to which settlement in the deep fjord had expelled this tiniest of its members. “Hard winters can lead to hard hearts. I believe we’ll fare better going south.”
“But we had to come here, Father,” Ketil said insistently. “I dreamed it.”
“So you did, son,” Magnus said, pondering the gods’ wisdom in giving the boy this unusual gift when they had denied him normal intelligence. He glanced down at the tiny girl, whose skin was already regaining a healthy pink color, sheltering peacefully in the capacious folds of his multi-hued cloak. “And it appears we’ve already found the reason why.”
Would you like to read more? Click for the beginning of Chapter One.