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By Diana Groe
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
A shriek rent the air.
Brenna dropped the bucket of mussels and ran toward the sound.
She shouldn't have let Moira wander away. If anything happened
to her younger sister, their father would never forgive her.
She'd never forgive herself.
Fear made her wing-footed. When she rounded the outcropping of
dark basalt, she found Moira cautiously circling a body on the
sand. It was a man curled on his side, one long arm draped
over a wooden cask.
Brenna breathed a sigh. God be praised, Moira was unhurt.
"Is he dead, do ye think?" her sister asked.
"Seems to be." Brenna used the butt end of her walking stick
to push the man's shoulder and roll him onto his back. He
flopped over as lifelessly as a beached porpoise. Dark blood
crusted at his hairline where he'd obviously taken a blow.
"Oh, he's a fine strong lad. Look at the arms on him, Brenna."
The stranger was even more heavily muscled than the smith, and
though he wasn't stretched out full length, Brenna could see
that if he were standing upright, he would be far taller than
any man in her father's keep. His pale hair was a disheveled,
tangled mess, but even dusted with brine and sand, the man's
face reminded Brenna of the fierce war-like angels painted on
the scriptorium walls at Clonmacnoise Abbey, stern and
forbidding, butheart-stoppingly beautiful.
Brenna's gaze fell on the runic symbols carved into the hilt
of the knife at the man's waist. Her lip curled with loathing.
"One of the Normanni."
"A Northman?" Moira leaned closer to him. "Mother used to
frighten us with stories of Northmen when we were little, but
even though they've raided near us, I've never seen one in all
me living life." She cocked a questioning brow at Brenna. "Do
ye mean to tell me ye have?"
"Aye, though I wish I had not." Brenna's voice was flat and
she raised the pointed end of her staff toward the still
"Are all Northmen so fair, then?"
"No, not all," Brenna said through clenched jaw.
"This one surely is. He's so pretty. Tis a pity he's dead."
Moira reached down to smooth a damp lock of hair from the
Suddenly his eyelids flew open and he grabbed Moira's wrist.
She screamed and tried to pull away, but the stranger's grip
No, not this time, Brenna thought.
White-hot rage surged through her and a low growl erupted from
the back of her throat. The Ostman heathen dared put his
filthy hand on her sister. Almost in reflex, she jabbed his
thigh with her staff, burying the sharp point into his flesh.
Her stomach lurched at the way the shaft stuck, embedded in
the man's heavy muscle. Brenna jerked backward on it, but
couldn't pull it free for another stab.
The good nuns at Clonmacnoise had admonished her that anger,
or any other strong passion for that matter, was a sin, but
Brenna knew if she were able, she'd pound the man into raw
meat before the fury inside her was quelled.
Eyes wide with surprise, the stranger howled and released
"Run!" Brenna ordered. Her younger sister whisked away,
disappearing round the rocks, fleet-footed as a hind.
The man wrapped his long fingers around Brenna's make-shift
spear and yanked it from his leg with a grunt and a spurt of
blood. Then he jerked the other end of the staff from her
Despite his injury, the man rose to his feet, red spreading on
the dun-colored leggings and streaking toward his knee. He
tossed her stick into the gorse bushes. Then he turned to face
her, his handsome features marred by a black frown.
For one paralyzing moment, Brenna couldn't breathe. The
lapping of the waves played over in her head like a
half-remembered song. A gull screamed and she was sharply
aware of the reeking fishy smell of the sea. The Northman
blocked her way.
She feinted to throw him off balance, then turned and raced
down the beach in the opposite direction Moira had fled. She
heard the man's footfalls pounding behind her and lengthened
her stride. He shouted something to her in an evil-sounding
language, and though his tone wasn't threatening, she wouldn't
be tricked by the likes of him.
Surely she could outrun a half-drowned man with a hole in his
leg. Surely she could-
She felt a blow to her lower back as the man lunged, wrapping
his arms around her waist. Brenna pitched headlong into the
gritty sand. They rolled together, over and over, she
scrambling to get away, he grasping at her to keep her with
him. When they finally came to a stop, Brenna was pinned
beneath the big man's body.
"Get off me, ye Finn-Gall demon!" Brenna pummeled his chest
with her fists till the man caught up her hands and pressed
them into the sand above her head. She flailed her feet trying
to kick him, but he wrapped his long legs around hers, binding
All she had left were words and she spewed out the most
hateful curses she'd ever heard. She invoked every plague
imaginable to rain down on the stranger's golden head and
offered his immortal soul to Beelzebub with all the venom she
The man didn't blink an eyelash, his impossibly blue eyes
going darker by the moment. His face hovered over hers, his
expression unreadable. He let her rant until she was utterly
spent and gasping.
"That's the best string of insults I've ever heard," he said
calmly. The corners of his mouth turned up in a wry smile,
despite the furrow between his dark brows.
Brenna felt the blood rush from her face.
"Ye understand me?"
"Let me see. You seem to think I'm something called a succubus
from the Netherworld and you invited the Prince of Darkness,
whoever he is, to feast on my liver. Ja, girl, I think I
Brenna felt his belly quiver as if he suppressed a laugh. In
spite of the way his brows knit together, he seemed genuinely
amused, Devil take him.
"How is it ye speak our tongue?"
The smile faded and the man's frown deepened. "I ... don't
He continued to study her face as if the answer might be found
there. Though his body was heavy on hers, he lay perfectly
still, making no threatening movements.
That wouldn't last long, Brenna suspected.
If she could keep the man talking, distract him a bit, maybe
she'd be able to wiggle away from him. Surely Moira had
arrived back at the keep by now. Da and the men would be
grabbing their bows and sprinting toward the beach to her
rescue. She drew a shaky breath, taking heart at the thought
that the wiry men of Erin might pop over the hillock at any
moment. "Where will ye be coming from?"
A grimace creased the Northman's face and his eyes flitted
back and forth in their reddened sockets. He'd spent quite
some time in the sea, Brenna realized.
"I don't know." His voice was a hoarse whisper.
"Don't know? Many's the man who's lost his way and doesn't
know where he is, but sure and ye are the first I've seen who
couldn't say where he'd been."
The warm stickiness of the man's blood seeped through the
fabric of her tunic. Maybe blood loss accounted for the look
of panic flickering across the man's features. She must have
jabbed him deeper than she thought.
"How did ye find yourself in the sea?" she asked.
His eyes rolled again, as though searching for the answer. His
grip loosened, but she still couldn't get away from him. At
least he hadn't tried to slobber on her or ruck up her skirt.
Though his body pressed hers into the sand, he showed little
interest in her. He seemed to be more confused than anything
"Ye don't know much, do ye?" She arched a brow at him. "Maybe
ye'll be telling me your name, then?"
"My name," he repeated woodenly.
"Aye, tis not a hard thing, surely." She managed to slide her
hands out of his grasp, but he didn't seem to notice. "All
God's creatures have names, even Northmen, I'll wager."
The man pressed his hands against her cheeks, holding her head
immobile, and stared into Brenna's eyes. His chest heaved and
she silently cursed herself for baiting him.
Then to her surprise, he rolled off her and sat up. She
crabbed backward, scuttling away from him, and scrambled to
Brenna had every intention of dashing over the small rise of
sand and into the hills, but the Northman was behaving so
strangely, taking no notice of her at all. And besides, if she
stayed to keep an eye on him, Da would be proud she hadn't let
him get away. It wasn't much, but if she showed a bit of
courage now, maybe Da would begin to forgive her for her
cowardice at Clonmacnoise.
It was worth the risk.
Brenna watched in morbid fascination as the Northman sat
holding his head, rocking forth and back, making small groans
in time with the movement. His moans grew louder until finally
he threw his head back in frustration and roared wordlessly to
The bone-chilling sound sent Brenna's heart to her toes.
Saints above, a madman! She froze like a hare in the thicket
who knows a fox is sniffing nearby.
Excerpted from Erinsong
by Diana Groe
Copyright © 2006 by Diana Groe .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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