910AD, a convent in Mercia in 'England'
Someone pounded on her cell door. “Wake up, Lady Eadlin! Wake up!”
Eadlin shook her head to clear her sleep-befuddled mind. “Cenric! What’s wrong?” Dread balled in her stomach.
She tugged her habit over her shift and wrenched the door open.
Cenric burst in. He held a sword and small knife. His face was grim, set into harsh furrows.
“Raiders, Lady Eadlin. You must flee at once. They’re in the village and heading this way.”
Now Eadlin could hear distant screams and shouting. The acrid smell of smoke floated on the night air.
Fingers of fear crept amongst her guts like ice spreading across a pond in winter. “I can’t leave the sisters. Can we defend ourselves?”
His jaw dropped. “Not against armed raiders.”
“Are they Vikings?” Her words were high-pitched and breathless.
“Probably.” His voice was severe.
Her heart pounded in terror. Oh God, not that! Eadlin pulled on her veil and boots then upended her reed mattress and took an ancient engraved dagger from beneath it.
The old warrior gestured at her with his sword. “You would prefer to die defending them?”
He grimaced in distaste. “Then get them into the chapel. It’s the strongest building.”
Eadlin ran out to beat on the doors of the nuns’ rooms yelling, “Vikings! Go to the chapel!”
The abbess, veil askew, joined her in shepherding the sisters into the stone building adjacent to their sleeping quarters. A few squat candles burnt on the altar, casting ghoulish shadows across the walls.
Fear haunted the abbess’ eyes, but her voice held its usual calm and commanding tone.
Cenric secured the door and stood ready with his sword. As he waited he pleaded, “Flee, Lady Eadlin, flee! There’s still time! It’s what your father would want you to do. Go while you can!”
Blood pounded loud in her ears. He was asking her to abandon these gentle women who took her in, to leave them defenceless. “I can’t, Cenric. There’s nowhere to go. This is my home, and this is my family now.”
Sounds of timber splintering and pottery breaking shattered the air. A dozen nuns huddled on their knees before the altar.
The abbess led them in prayer, “Domine, libera nos a furore normannorum….” Lord, save us from the fury of the northmen, but most, Eadlin saw, were distracted by the screaming and shouting coming from the village across the river and the noise outside the chapel door.
Some sobbed, and Sister Ælthgifu held a trembling novice in her arms.
The door to the chapel reverberated with the force of a shoulder or foot against it.
“Open the door or die!” yelled the attacker in English, his voice harsh and authoritative.
Surprised, Eadlin exchanged a glance with Cenric across the doorway.
Who were these attackers who spoke their language?
Were they the king’s men, come for her, or were they Vikings as Cenric had thought?
Neither she nor Cenric moved. Either way, danger stood beyond the door and would be in the chapel soon enough without their aiding it.
In seconds the cleaved door hung tattered from its hinges, and their attacker towered before them.
He was tall. Very tall.
His form filled the doorway.
Smoke and the sweet tang of blood clung to him. An iron helmet with nosepiece and a ragged blond beard hid all but his cold blue eyes, harsh cheeks, and bitter mouth.
Eadlin knew then-
#romance, #historicalromance, #Viking, #HistoricalFiction, #historical