Daughter of the Windby Michael Cadnum
Historical adventure story that takes place in medieval Scandinavia.
Hallgerd is the 17 year-old daughter of the Norwegian village leader. A group of Danes, acting under the orders of a powerful, warring-king's daughter, kidnap her and intend to marry her to this noblewoman's son. After a sympathetic young Dane helps her to escape, Hallegerd avenges her
Historical adventure story that takes place in medieval Scandinavia.
Hallgerd is the 17 year-old daughter of the Norwegian village leader. A group of Danes, acting under the orders of a powerful, warring-king's daughter, kidnap her and intend to marry her to this noblewoman's son. After a sympathetic young Dane helps her to escape, Hallegerd avenges her kidnapping by setting fire to the town and steals a small rowboat. As she is rowing through the marsh, she meets Gauk, a young hunter, along with a young blacksmith from Hallegerd's village who has come to rescue her.
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Daughter of the Wind
By Michael Cadnum
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2003 Michael Cadnum
All rights reserved.
There was a bear on the ice.
Gauk was pleased to see Snorri's signal that he had found tracks, waving and leaping up and down, pointing and making running motions with his arms so there could be no mistaking the message.
Gauk couldn't keep from laughing as he waved in return. But at the same time, the young hunter was suddenly thankful for the spear in his grip, aware that it was not too late to turn back to the boat, and to safety.
Gauk climbed to a ridge, his steps squeaking and crunching on the sun-weakened crust. He shielded his eyes and tried to see the creature. He could make out only ice and sky.
Snorri waved again. He was a bulky figure far across the immense floe, his leather cloak so stuffed with fleece that he looked like a much more heavyset man. Even at this distance Gauk could catch the flash of sunlight off Snorri's teeth as he smiled, gesturing excitedly, Come look!
Like most young Norsemen, both of them were trained at spear, sword, and knife. The two companions had hunted other large prey, even the bull walrus, on other spring days like this one. Walrus were great snorting, lunging creatures, exhaling geysers of vapor, and it took skill and a stout heart to kill one. But neither of the two young men had hunted bear before, and Gauk wondered once again how wise they were to take on this most dangerous quarry.
Their home village of Spjothof was famous as a proud place but poor, a village of brave men and beautiful women. But just a few weeks before, three warships, Raven of the Waves, Crane, and the legendary Landwaster, had returned laden with treasure from lands far to the west. The three ships had left again after a celebratory feast, eager to transform the newfound gold and silver into horses and sheep, and to spread the word of their success to villages up and down the fjord-cut coast.
Gauk and Snorri were proud of the three ships, but quietly chafed against their own lack of glory and wealth. Gauk had seen seventeen summers, and Snorri eighteen, and both felt spurred to win silver of their own. They had traveled here to the far north, past the taunts of pirates and drifting icebergs, hoping to track a bear on one of the vast floes. A cub would earn good coin from a Frankish nobleman — bears were prized in the fighting pits of the kingdoms of the south. A bear too big to net and cage could be killed for its valuable pelt. Such furs were prized because no land creature was as big, or as fierce, as a bear, and there was no telling how many hunters had died in its pursuit.
Before Gauk could reach his friend, a sky-splitting crack rang out across the ice.
He stopped his progress across the crust, breathing hard. Floes like this were liable to sudden fissures and sinkholes. Even now the surface was trembling, and another report, softer, like a cow's calving groan, filled the air.
Snorri waved him on, Hurry!
The reindeer-fur soles of his boots kept Gauk from slipping as he ran once again, clumsily fastening his garment. By the time Gauk panted up to the icy hummock where Snorri was waiting, his friend had given up his mocking posture and was kneeling, examining a series of paw prints, blue in the glittering surface.
They were huge.
Everyone knew the story of Egil the Stout — a yearling bear had clawed him to death on the drift-ice some ten years earlier, within sight of Egil's yelling, helpless companions. But this was a mature bear, very large, heading steadily north.
"Does he know we're after him?" asked Snorri.
"He's in a hurry," answered Gauk, still breathing hard with exertion and excitement.
"He must be running from you," said Snorri with a laugh. "Gauk, the great hunter. He's heard of you."
Gauk laughed quietly, and sniffed the cold air. Was it his imagination, or could he smell bear-kill — seal flesh — somewhere on the ice?
Snorri put a hand to his own breast, whispering a prayer. He carried a little silver hammer in a pouch against his breast so Thor would bless their hunt. But Gauk suspected that the god most likely to lend support to an eager pair of hunters was Thor's father, the one-eyed Odin. The enigmatic god often took on the guise of such a great bear when he traveled the earth. Sometimes he rewarded an especially brave hunter with bear-spirit, giving the spearman a supernatural gift of fighting prowess.
Gauk breathed a silent prayer of his own. Only a short prayer — he wanted Odin's help, if he could spare it, but not his full attention. The wily divinity was known to speak to humans through animals. Gauk had never heard a beast talk, although he admired men like Thorsten, the village berserkir, a warrior who had been rewarded by Odin for some brave deed in the past.
To Gauk, such a man seemed the essence of manliness, and represented the freedom to engage in violent adventures. Not everyone admired such folk. Like many berserkirs, Thorsten was feared as a fighter, but not necessarily respected as a neighbor by householders and farmers. Berserkers lacked that essential element of self-control, so prized among the Norse.
Gauk had secret hopes of someday becoming a dreaded berserker himself, but he had not confessed this to anyone, even to Snorri. Gauk cared a great deal what his neighbors thought of him, and he was not sure that the power to annihilate opponents was worth the sideways glances a berserker received.
Besides, thought the young hunter, if Odin ever spoke to me in the guise of a bear, I would die of fright.
"How fresh are the tracks?" Snorri was asking, fingering the cub net tied to his hip, useless against an adult bear. Perhaps Snorri, too, was having second thoughts, and beginning to hope that this bear-spoor was not recent.
"Very fresh," replied Gauk, trying to disguise the strain in his voice, and the two friends laughed at their own nervousness.
"Do you think he'll turn and come back?" asked Snorri, careful to face away from the gentle north wind so his speech would not carry. Gauk had a reputation for foretelling weather and judging where the submerged whale would surface. He had a strong arm, too, and older men let Gauk make the first harpoon thrust when a bull walrus charged across the ice.
Gauk considered. He had heard the saga masters, fueled by ale, sing of bear hunts, and he had seen the scars of the sun-darkened men who had tried cub-snatching, and given it up.
"Maybe," Gauk guessed, his voice a bare whisper, "when he reaches the edge of the ice, he'll turn around and test us."
The animal's tracks were deep — he was traveling fast, into the eye of the wind — but bears were, by reputation, much like men: restless, proud, and curious. And however vast the floe might be, the island of ice did not stretch forever.
It was not too late for the two hunters to change their minds — a short walk south and they would reach their skip, the small sailing boat, shake out the white, homespun sail, and begin the long voyage home.
Then Gauk felt ashamed of himself, aware that he was demonstrating a lack of true courage. Snorri wanted a bear, and Gauk could not blame his friend for his ambition or high spirits.
Everyone could recite the brief saga of Atli, a legendary fighter, who tracked a she-bear three days and three nights, until he roared out "The Tracker's Challenge." This was one of the Spjotfolks' favorite songs, one that inspired hunters to greater endurance and charmed prey into helplessness. The bear responded to the song somewhat unexpectedly, turned around, and chased Atli all the way to his ship. The story was considered amusing, but in every important respect true.
"If he comes back to take a look at us —" Snorri made a plunging motion with his spear, as though the kill would be as easy and natural as breaking flatbread and passing it around. They had heard the gray-haired hunters describe how two hunters, with paired, angled thrusts, were more likely to slay a bear. Four hunters would do even better — or eight.
Gauk could not shake off his dread.
The thunder from below startled both of them. Snorri made an expression of exaggerated fear as the great floe rocked underfoot, but Gauk could not laugh.
The ice was breaking up, frost-smoke rising up in the distance.
The floe trembled for what seemed a long time.
Snorri stopped sporting and leaned on his spear, using it as a staff. The ice desert shivered underfoot once more, and then at last it was still.
"Calm down," said Snorri, speaking to the frozen surface around them. He knelt and gave the glittering crust a pat. "You nearly frightened poor Gauk." His voice was steady but husky, his fear badly disguised.
"I can swim better than you can," said Gauk, for the moment slightly resenting his friend's ability to turn everything into an attempt at humor. Gauk could name several hunters who had disappeared through rotten ice in the history of their village, or who had vanished into a sudden ice-fog never to be seen again. Gauk could swim, after a fashion, but the cold water would kill any man in very little time.
Snorri began to chant, as loudly as he could.
He recited the ancient challenge.
Redden no more
the ice with your tread —
weary creature, come home to my spear.
The soul-stirring tune was lost in the cold air. The chant reminded Gauk so much of long nights around the ale fire, voices joined in poetry, that he was silenced by a stab of longing for home.
Gauk joined in, their two voices strong, now, warming to the song.CHAPTER 2
They fell silent at the end of the ancestral chant.
The two friends shielded their eyes against the ice loom — the glare of the white surface reflected in the sky — searching the horizon.
"See anything?" asked Snorri.
Gauk, whose eyes were admired for their acuity, did not respond. He did not want to give voice to disappointing news.
Gauk's father had been lost in a storm at sea three summers past. Sometimes Gauk wondered what his father would advise him at a time like this. Go back, he would no doubt counsel his son, and let some other father's son lose his life.
Gauk hoped that Astrid would be watching on the shore when he and Snorri rowed the still waters of the fjord, with a huge snowy pelt in the prow of the boat. Astrid was as pretty as Hallgerd, the jarl's daughter, but more likely to laugh at a young hunter's joke, or walk with him to the edge of the sheep meadow. Gauk had woven her a bracelet of straw during the long winter darkness, a cunning piece of work. Astrid had blushed with pleasure on receiving it from his hand.
"Is he on his way?" Snorri was asking.
No seemed too final.
"Not yet," said Gauk. "I'm sure he liked my singing very well, but yours —"
Snorri gave a quiet, disappointed laugh. The young hunter used his sleeve as a strop, whetting his iron spearhead. Whale-Biter had been found by Snorri's mother in a whalebone washed up in the fjord. Hego, the villages master at putting an edge on iron, had taken special care, honing the storied spear. Gauk's own spear was a good enough weapon, but without a name. Only soul-stirring events or an intriguing history could make a weapon, or any object, name-worthy.
Gauk put a finger to his lips, and Snorri crouched expectantly.
Gauk separated from his friend and took several strides, climbing a high mound. He shaded his eyes against the afternoon sun. A gust of wind made him blink, tears blurring his vision.
And yet Gauk told himself to look with his entire body, with his memory and his love of life. To see what was there, even if his eyes could not yet make it out.
Gauk blinked twice, just to be sure.
He gave a low, sharp whistle. "He's bigger than I thought," he said. Much bigger than the creature whose hide hangs in the jarl's house, he could not add in his excitement. "And he's on his way here."
"How far away?" asked Snorri.
He was closer than Gauk expected, and coming on much too quickly.
Then, without warning, the bear vanished.
It was an old hunter's adage: When a bear goes to ground, keeping his black snout behind the ridges, he becomes invisible.
Gauk said, "He's stalking us." His pulse hammered.
And before the young hunter could add anything more, the ice groaned again, making a noise like a mare in heat, like a whole herd of randy steeds. The spine of snow under his feet shifted, forcing him to sink to one knee. With slow thunder, a long abyss worked its way across the ice, exhaling cold.
When the ice fell silent, a crevasse separated the two friends.
Snorri tiptoed to the edge, a daring demonstration of how close he could get, crumbs of ice crust tumbling into the darkness. He shook the net at his hip. He acted it out, the throw, the hauling, Gauk rejoining his friend on the north side of the crevasse.
Could the net, and Snorri's strength, support Gauk's weight?
Gauk was broad-shouldered and tall, but surely his friend would have little trouble. Very little trouble. And yet the young man's habitual caution flickered to life. A better plan was to walk along the abyss, searching for an ice bridge. Such cracks did not run forever.
The void was a source of wind, now, and it would be hard to make himself heard over the breathy echo, the depths still resounding with the rupture in the floe.
And as the echo subsided, there was another sound.
A quiet sound, growing louder, closer. Gauk realized too late what this new disquiet was, this ponderous chuff, chuff growing more distinct across the wind-carved snow.
The beast was closing fast.
And Snorri did not see him.CHAPTER 3
Gauk did not have to cry out a warning.
Even at this distance his friend read it in his eyes.
Snorri spun, and danced away from the crevasse. He half-crouched, his spear poised, and skipped backward, nimble and well balanced. The bear was traveling with too much momentum to alter his course, and for an instant Gauk had a vision of the great animal tumbling into the abyss.
Each bound the bear made cast a ripple of yellow-white fur in a wave over his body and caused a burst of air to escape his nostrils. He struggled to brake his course, his paws skidding over the gleaming surface. Snorri scampered up a ridge of ice and turned to face the bear as the animal altered his approach, explosions of white vapor where he had been an instant before.
Gauk cried out.
The bear slowed, gathering himself. He swung his paws, sluggish, weighed down with his expanse of seal-stained fur. Neither blow struck Snorri, who fell to his knees.
The bear is bluffing, Gauk tried to reassure himself. He's got a belly full of seal, and will soon tire of the two of us. And Snorri is clever. Gauk ran along the crevasse to keep what was happening in full sight as his friend Snorri fell, rolled into a ball, and did not move.
Gauk began to leap along the edge of the crevasse, and lifted his shaking voice in a song, a village battle cry, "Let not your breath touch my shipmate." The bear turned, his small, iron eyes picking out Gauk where the young hunter danced at the far edge of the chasm.
Snorri rose and brandished his spear, whether to reassure Gauk that he was still alive, or to implore the powers of the sky, Gauk could not tell. His friend had been injured, after all, a rill of blood coursing down his face. But it was not a mortal wound, Gauk fought to believe. It was the sort of injury a man will live to brag about, running a finger along an old scar.
The massive bear turned and sniffed the air in Snorri's direction, as though he had trouble seeing the hunter. Then he drew close to Snorri, enveloping him in shadow.
"Now!" Gauk cried out. Or perhaps he prayed the words silently, sent them like Odin's sacred ravens to his friend's soul, Now.
Into his heart with the spear.
Gauk did not see the bear strike another blow. Or perhaps he saw it and his mind would not believe what it perceived. In an instant Snorri was not standing. He was stretched out on the ice.
The bear knelt over Snorri in a posture nearly maternal, protective, seeking the wound, licking, lapping, reaching down with his ever-reddening muzzle and working at Snorri. The creature shook his head back and forth. Bones broke, a subtle, heartrending whisper. Even at this distance Snorri's breath came out loud but wordlessly, and then all Gauk could see of his friend was a hand, extended from its sleeve, whipping back and forth across the widening red puddle on the snow.
Excerpted from Daughter of the Wind by Michael Cadnum. Copyright © 2003 Michael Cadnum. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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i thougth this book was awesome!!!! It took me abot 2 minutes to get wrapped into it. I never stopped reading it. It took me like 2 hours!!!! I wonder if there's a 2nd 1???
I thought this book had many ups and downs to it, and the author tried very hard to keep it interesting, maybe a little too hard. I couldn't see this book becoming a bestseller or anything it's not that good but I enjoyed it.